“CWPPs have a lot to do with our Woo’eys,” said Ron Briggs, El Dorado County Supervisor of District 4.
Neither a variation on a theme by Dr. Seuss nor something a Cheshire Cat might utter, Briggs was pointing out that Community Wildfire Protection Plans are related to Wildland Urban Interface zones. (WUI is commonly pronounced Woo’ey in fire protection jargon.)
The point at issue during Tuesday’s El Dorado County Board of Supervisors meeting, however, was how to spend $275,552 in federal Title III funds that the county controls. The money is distributed through the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act under the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Counties that border or include national forests can be eligible to participate in the program by applying to the U.S. Forest Service for grants related to fire prevention education and/or community Search and Rescue programs.
Over the past 10 or 12 years, El Dorado County has alternated between allocating the money to local Fire Safe Councils and to the sheriff’s department Search and Rescue operations. Congress has reauthorized the Act for the current grant period, but by all accounts, 2012-13 is to be the last year the federal money will be available.
Chief Administrative Officer Terri Daly recommended that the board give the entire $267,229 to the sheriff’s department for two main reasons. First, the Fire Safe Council still has nearly $52,000 of “unexpended Title III funds” on hand. Second and perhaps more significant to the county, Search and Rescue is supported directly through the General Fund. The CAO’s “proposal essentially swaps the General Fund appropriation for search and rescue with federal Title III dollars.”
Several local council leaders and directors appealed to the the board for a larger piece of the pie. Richard Krek, Chairman of the El Dorado Fire Safe Council said, “We’d like half of the $275 thousand,” and added that for every dollar of Title III funds, the community gains four dollars of future fire prevention/suppression value from Fire Safe projects.
Logtown Fire Safe Council member Pat Dwyer called the Community Wildfire Protection Plans a “huge tool for residents by which every dollar is a force multiplier for savings in future fire costs.”
Diamond Springs-El Dorado Fire Protection District Chief Rob Combs praised the councils particularly for their effort in creating public awareness and their “chipper” programs which help reduce ignition fuels. They provide significant benefits to local fire districts, he said.
Pitching for his department, Undersheriff Rich Williams said “hundreds of thousands of tourists come to El Dorado County, and many of them need to be saved. Please keep the budget for Search and Rescue.” He told the board that the S and R budget was about $300,000 annually.
Norma Santiago, District 5, offered a motion which she described as “splitting the baby” by which the board would add approximately $8,000 to make a total of $60,000 for the Fire Safe Councils and allocate the balance to Search and Rescue. That motion was later approved unanimously.
Fire Safe Councils
Executive Coordinator of the El Dorado County Fire Safe Council Cari De Wolf sent an e-mail to the Mountain Democrat explaining some of her organization’s activities and those of 15 satellite councils throughout the Western Slope.
Given the population increase in El Dorado County over the past couple of decades, more and more residents are likely to have some experience with wildfires in the future. DeWolf noted that many newcomers “arrive from urbanized areas and have never lived in a rural setting, and many times these folks are completely unaware that they reside in a Wildland Urban Interface (WUI).
“The WUI is the interface where urbanization meets the woods and forests. It is a magnificent and beautiful place to live, but it is fragile and highly volatile. Cal Fire has classified several of our County communities as being in the WUI with Very High Fire Hazard status. Many homes are adjacent or within close proximity to federal lands such as that of the U.S.D.A. Forest Service, which can be an extremely dangerous situation if residents are unaware of their surroundings and have not taken proper fire safe precautions to prevent the spread of wildfire.”
The councils serve as repositories of information, education and action. More than 150 volunteers operate throughout the county encouraging awareness about what the homeowner can do to protect his property as well as to help create a fire safe community.
One of the councils’ primary objectives is to help property owners create 100 feet of “defensible space” around their homes. That process supports individual and collective responsibility for neighborhoods and the county at large. Of the 100 feet idea, De Wolf said:
“Through individuals’ initiative to take action that provides for personal planning, protection, and evacuation, it allows for firefighters and emergency response crews to quickly strategize, maneuver and get the upper hand to extinguish wildfire as it occurs.”
Projects supported by the fire safe councils include residential chipping services, community green waste dumpsters and disabled and senior assistance defensible space programs, De Wolf pointed out.
These programs are made possible through grants funded by the U.S.D.A. Forest Service, Cal Fire Proposition 40, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, FEMA, the El Dorado Community Foundation, other public agencies, the private sector and individual contributions. To learn more about these programs and to obtain information about establishing a community satellite fire safe council, visit the EDC Fire Safe Council Website at edcfiresafe.org or contact 530-647-1700.
Contact Chris Daley at 530-344-5063 or email@example.com. Follow @CDaleyMtDemo.