On a hot, breezy afternoon in late September 1992, a small fire was reported near the Cleveland Corral Visitor Information Station, about eight miles east of Pollock Pines. Within seven minutes, the fire was 15 acres in size. Four minutes later, the fire was 75 acres in size and was spreading through treetops a quarter mile away. More than 5,300 firefighters and support personnel were called in to fight the fire. Despite their gallant efforts, more than two weeks passed and two lives were taken before the fire was contained on Oct. 14. In all, the Cleveland Fire burned 22,485 acres.
“The Cleveland Fire was a wake-up call for area residents,” said Richard Krek, chairman of the El Dorado County Fire Safe Council. “It burned so hot that the land became sterile, as well as caused a landslide that blocked Highway 50 for several weeks. The fire came close to Pollock Pines and affected residents’ water supply. That scared people.”
Following the fire, community members in El Dorado County and statewide began looking at ways to protect residents from wildfires along the wilderness-public interface. The National Fire Protection Agency, a nonprofit organization aimed at fire prevention worldwide, worked with the U.S. Forest Service to create guidelines to allow government funding for what they called FireWise and “fire adapted” communities. Eventually, these and other efforts led to the creation of the El Dorado County Fire Safe Council in Sept. 2001 and its recognition as a non-profit organization in April 2002.
“There are five fire wise communities in El Dorado County,” said Cari DeWolf, executive coordinator of the EDC Fire Safe Council. “Basically, each community is a group of neighbors who come together to strategize ways to improve local fire safety. Then, with our help, they can go after grant funding for projects and educational opportunities close to home . . . So far we’ve accomplished more than $10 million worth of projects in El Dorado County.”
Projects funded by the EDC Fire Safe council in partnership with the USDA Forest Service and many others have included public awareness and education programs, small- to large-scale fuels reduction, residential chipping, senior and disabled vegetation clearance, green waste dumpsters, community clean-ups and more. In particular, the council is currently excited about its new Green Waste Vouchers — a program that allows disposal customers to transport their green waste to a facility in Diamond Springs — as well as about encouraging residents to create 30 feet of defensible space around homes and community infrastructure.
“Creating defensive space is critical. Grizzly Flat is a great example,” said Krek. “During the last few years, Grizzly Flat has done over a million dollars worth of projects. Because of this, when a fire struck in December 2011, firefighters were able to quickly strategize how to fight the fire and get the upper hand before it did much damage. These types of things are critical for saving life and community assets, as well as for protecting our firefighters.”
Unfortunately, as with everything in the nonprofit world today, recent economic times have made it increasingly difficult for the EDC Fire Safe Council to secure funding for its projects. Because of this, the council is trying to keep its current partnerships strong, as well as to create new partnerships with other nonprofit organizations so that they can go after funding together. The council is also looking for local business and residents’ support through donations and volunteering.
“We nonprofits are all in the same boat,” said DeWolf. “There’s a lot at stake here as we’re at this crossroads of trying to survive. We’ve provided service to thousands, but we need their support to continue.”
“Fire safety is about a lot more than just fighting fires in the wilderness,” said Krek. “It’s about getting to know your neighbors and working together to be prepared. Here in El Dorado County it’s not ‘if’ a wildfire is going to happen, but ‘when.’ When you live near the wilderness-public interface, it’s just a fact of life.”
Come check out the EDC Fire Safe Council booth at the El Dorado County Home and Garden Show May 3-5, 2013. In addition, for more information or to find out how you can volunteer, please visit www.edcfiresafe.org or call (530) 647-1700.