El Dorado County Supervisor for District 2 Ray Nutting got a visit from half-a-dozen Calfire engines, a bulldozer, two water tenders and nearly 50 inmates from Growlersburg Monday afternoon. Responding to 911 calls both from the neighborhood and from Nutting’s ranch in the remote south county, Calfire spent several hours trying to control about 5 acres of burning brush, small trees and debris.
Calfire public information officer Teri Mizuhara described the incident as an “escaped controlled burn” that “kept crews pretty busy” throughout the day. Noting that the first call came in at 12:53 from Sierra Springs, Mizuhara said fire equipment was dispatched from the Camino Calfire command center at 12:55 and Growlersburg hand-crews were alerted immediately. Another call came in from Nutting’s property at 1:08 p.m. she said, explaining that residents other than Nutting’s family live on the more than 600-acre ranch.
In addition to Calfire and Growlersburg, Mizuhara said personnel and equipment from El Dorado County Fire Protection District, Pioneer and Diamond Springs Fire also responded. She explained that each of three hand crews is made up of about 15 inmate firefighters.
Nutting was quick to respond to the Mountain Democrat’s request for information and comment Tuesday afternoon after editors received emails from concerned citizens asking for follow-up information about the incident. The supervisor, now serving in his fourth elected term, represents much of the rural area of the county. He has traditionally advocated for an aggressive, countywide effort to reduce forest fuels that contribute to catastrophic wildfire and explained that he and his sons had been raking, piling and burning pine needles, leaves and other debris over the course of several days.
“The boys and I were doing fuels reduction when the wind came up. It caused a flash fire that went straight up the hill from the house. It’s a steep, steep slope that faces south and gets sun all day and had dried out more than I thought,” Nutting explained, adding that while the underneath was still moist, the top layers were dry enough to burn. There was still snow on the ground in many areas of the property, and he described a “flash fire under such conditions as very rare.”
Nutting acknowledged that adding material to an existing burn pile on a “no-burn day” represented a technical violation. The burn pile had been active for three or four days and “theoretically, we were burning on a burn day,” he said. The addition of more material, causing the pile to reignite and eventually to consolidate with other piles constituted the violation.
Calfire’s Mizuhara explained that her agency does not issue citations for this kind of case during winter months and that the violation would come under the jurisdiction of the county’s Air Quality Management District.
“I made a mistake by putting material on a fire,” Nutting acknowledged. “I’m in violation and have to take a course in fire protection, and I’m already in touch with Dave (Johnston, air pollution control officer). It’s totally embarrassing, but they have to treat me like anyone else who burns on a no-burn day.”
He added that he has learned that in future there must be greater clearance when burning on a steep slope.
Dave Johnston replied to the Mountain Democrat by email Wednesday and explained his agency’s response to the infraction. He noted that there have been ” a lot of violations recently because there have been more no-burn days.” The state determines each day whether or not it will be a burn or no-burn day, he said.
Contact Chris Daley at 530-344-5063 or [email protected] Follow @CDaleyMtDemo.