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Fire Safety a Top Priority for Placer County Supervisors

April 11, 2013

The Placer County Board of Supervisors, at its regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday, took three actions to make the county more fire safe. In the first, the Board approved the permanent expansion of the county’s hazardous vegetation abatement (HVA) ordinance to all county unincorporated areas. In the second action, the Board OK’d an update to the Community Wildfire Protection Plan. And in the third action, the Board approved an agreement with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CALFIRE) for fire protection and other emergency services.

The HVA, which began as a pilot program in select areas in the Lake Tahoe Basin in 2007, was later extended to communities in unincorporated areas on the western side of the county. With the ordinance now permanently in place, owners of unimproved parcels that have no structures can be required to remove untreated fire fuels that create a hazard to adjacent improved parcels.

The ordinance encourages property owners to meet state and county requirements through the use of inspections, public education and cooperation. Before compulsory abatement is ordered and billed to a property owner, the ordinance has a process involving inspections and cooperative efforts. The ordinance provides for a formal action, if necessary, to ensure removal of the fire hazard.

The ordinance is enforced by the County Fire Warden or cooperating fire chiefs with County Code Enforcement's support if compulsory abatement is ordered. The Supervisors established a hearing body to review disputed cases and make a final determination on whether compulsory abatement is warranted. To date, there have been no abatement orders issued; fire protection staff has been able to gain compliance through property owner education and cooperation.

Rui Cunha, Placer County Office of Emergency
Services Program Manager.
“The Board’s action to approve the HVA Ordinance countywide gives our unincorporated fire chiefs a tool to encourage the elimination of hazardous fuels from unimproved parcels when these fuels pose a significant risk to a neighbor’s home.” said Rui Cunha, Placer County Office of Emergency Services Program Manager. “The fire chiefs, local fire safe councils, and many community members in both the western and eastern portions of Placer County have been instrumental in supporting this item.”

The Community Wildfire Protection Plan is a collaborative effort between Placer County and federal, state and local partners in fire prevention and mitigation. The plan discusses the many challenges in the planning areas and community preparedness, provides detail in hazard assessment, and lists 46 defense zones or urban lot fuel reduction projects, community preparedness and education projects.

The effort serves as a guidebook for making fire prone communities safer as identified projects are implemented. The Plan defines specific fire hazards in designated areas, assesses the values at risk and identifies and prioritizes specific projects to protect local communities. Projects include: rehabilitation and restoration of habitat; hazardous fuels reduction; and public education.

In the third action, the Board OK’d a contract with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) for fiscal year 2013/14 for fire protection and prevention, emergency medical, hazardous materials and all hazard incident response, in addition to dispatch services. The contracted CALFIRE agencies are known as the Placer County Fire Department.

The area subject to the contract covers approximately 475 square miles, or nearly one-third of unincorporated Placer County. The population in the area is 44,400, and service is provided by both full time and volunteer firefighters. The CALFIRE contract pays for the equivalent of 66 full time firefighters operating from eight fire stations that are around the clock. The stations are in in Alta, Colfax, Bowman, North Auburn, Ophir, Lincoln, the Sunset Industrial Area, and Dry Creek. Approximately 100 volunteer firefighters operate out of the paid stations listed above and from six community volunteer stations in Dutch Flat, Fowler, Paige, Thermalands, Dry Creek and Sheridan.

During Fiscal Year (FY) 2011/12, Placer County Fire responded to 5,109 calls for service, including 3,809 calls for medical aid. Of the medical aid calls, 405 involved vehicle accidents with 14 vehicle extrications. Placer County Fire was called to 774 fire-related calls including structure, commercial structure, wildland smoke checks and debris checks. There were 110 hazardous materials calls, 28 investigations and 338 other types of calls including rescues, and public assist calls.

The Placer County Fire Department continues to seek volunteers to staff the stations in the unincorporated county.  Placer County Fire has established different levels of volunteerism to suit the abilities and desires of community members. Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer should contact CALFIRE at 530-889-0111 and speak with a fire chief.