Sierraville resident and one of the meeting’s organizers Paul Cueto welcomed the group and introduced Sierra County Planning Director Tim Beals to give a summary of what the County had been doing on fire safe issues. Beals stated the fires have been a little unnerving and Sierra County has been pretty lucky this year and in past years. He added there’s going to be an event we all dread thinking about and need to be prepared as best we can. Beals said there’s a number of ways to be prepared. At the County level and Office of Emergency Services preparations, the County Emergency Plan will be before the Board of Supervisors soon and would be a one to one-and-a-half year process to get all fire agencies and emergency service agencies under review to include current trends, current programs, law enforcement, hazard mitigation, which he called long range projects. Prior to 2014, Sierra County could not penetrate the bureaucracy. The Board adopted a proclamation of local emergency to try and get the attention of state agencies and looked at what was done with Tahoe during the Clinton administration. In 2016 the Board adopted another resolution. Rural County Representatives of California (RCRC), and California State Association of Counties (CSAC) endorsed it and tried to move it into more policy and funding discussions. Beals stated it takes a lot of leverage and it didn’t work. Next proclamation was done during the Loyalton Fire in August 2020. That proclamation was approved early enough to take advantage of resources that weren’t competing with other fires. Now, in 2021 Beals said they are still trying to serve that priority. The Board has agreed to participate in the North Yuba Partnership MOU signed by key partners to promote and plan for the Yuba Basin, which is Yuba Pass to Nevada County. That partnership which Supervisor Paul Roen is a voting member is made up of several environmental groups as well as Yuba County Water Agency, and the Forest Service. Beals stated Roen’s role has made a measurable impact. The Board executed a Master Stewardship Agreement with the Forest Service, which allows the Forest Service and the County to take conditional timber sales and reinvest funds locally. First place will be used on the Yuba Project for an aspen regeneration project. Timber will be sold on the market and reinvested in the Yuba Basin. Beals said the Fire Safe Council locally has been struggling because of lack of funding. Now the Board is pursuing grant funding to be able to staff and fund the Fire Safe Council for planning and project work. He reported the County has been successful in getting three Sierra Nevada Conservancy grants. One was a $500,000 for the Yuba Project, another was a $100,000 planning grant to develop wildlife surveys and biological surveys and preplanning. The other grant was $1 million to the Sierra Valley Resource Conservation District for landscape-based treatments on the eastside. Beals complimented the Board, stating he’s never seen a more proactive and engaged board to work to reduce fire severity and fire suppression.
Beals concluded by stating they’ve been nervous a long time and are concerned with the extent these fires have burned. He said how fires are approached needed to be reevaluated. They need to use local talent, local experts and people who know what the fire behavior is. Beals said Butte and Lassen counties are questioning how fires are managed. Sierra County authorized a letter complimenting the letters from those counties. The Board adopted a local ordinance prohibiting campfires and other uses that could start fires on private land.
A Forest closure statewide was implemented as resources are stretched thin.
Beals stated they are looking at setting up an evacuation center for animals with Tracy Schohr, Livestock and Natural Resources Advisor, Plumas, Sierra and Butte counties, University of California Cooperative Extension. Schohr said they had been working with ranchers all summer on large livestock and are currently trying to set up a better system so people with livestock have a place to go in an evacuation.
Beals reported Sheriff Mike Fisher has been very active in monitoring the fires and involved in evacuation planning. He has been working with Zonehaven, which is a program that allows emergency alerts to be issued and is very user friendly allowing property owners to access immediate information on the status of an emergency that may affect their property.
Beals stated there is a fairly good balance in Title III funding used for fire planning and related topics. At the next Board meeting they will consider qualified Title III projects. The Board has allocated seed money for community FireWise efforts.
He said they are continuing to support the biomass in Loyalton, the new owners and the effort to have a place to take biomass.
On August 6th an initial Disaster Council meeting, was held, which is an organization of County officials and emergency service agencies and was created within the County code for use during or in advance of county emergency situations. This council is typically only used during emergency situations like a flood or wildfire but in this current case, with so many fires and resources stretched so thin, the decision was made to call a meeting of this council and allow it to become the forum and vehicle for communications between agencies and to take on specific tasks to improve the safety of county residents. During this meeting, a number of things were prioritized. Two key things were coordination with the Forest Service and local fire agencies, and the second was the effort to preposition equipment in the County. Beals stated this was discussed at length. Roen and Sierra County Fire Protection District jumped on it and were able to electively create an opportunity for paid prepositioned personnel and equipment. Tom Rowson, Chair of the Fire Commission stated they were on day 27 of prepositioning. Preposition equipment and personnel are in City of Loyalton, Downieville, Sierraville or Calpine. He explained with resources being stretched thin, they are there to augment personnel and equipment and to help support the Forest Service. Roen said the cross coordination with the Forest Service has been wonderful.
From the audience it was asked what was the cost per day. Rowson said it is huge. Tom Archer, member of the Fire Commission added the prepositioning allows an initial strike and with the lack of resources they are blessed we have available personnel and equipment, adding it was a really proactive way of attack and work to prevent those fires from starting that really “suck the money.”
Beals felt the Sierraville Ranger District was a great asset and ally and the community was blessed to have it. He added they have a great Fire District and have a lot of people who care and are paying attention to what could happen.
Cueto stressed the need to band together and embrace FireWise and do their part and team up to help clear some properties for those who can’t.