Cascadel Woods community stays ‘firewise’

From left: Anette Poplarchick, a defensible space inspector, Simon Elman, a volunteer in prevention and member of the Cascadel Fire Brigade, and Natasha Noble, a defensible space inspector, have helped the community of Cascadel Woods, near North Fork, become “firewise.”
From left: Anette Poplarchick, a defensible space inspector, Simon Elman, a volunteer in prevention and member of the Cascadel Fire Brigade, and Natasha Noble, a defensible space inspector, have helped the community of Cascadel Woods, near North Fork, become “firewise.” Submitted photo

The community of Cascadel Woods hosted it’s annual Firewise Day on May 20 at the Cascadel Clubhouse. Guest speakers included Cal Fire, U.S. Forest Service, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, and Citizens on Patrol (COPs).

Cascadel Woods has been a Firewise Community since 2012 and hosts this annual event in order to provide valuable information to residents on wildfire preparedness, fire and electrical powerline safety in the event of an emergency and to educate the community on how they can specifically prepare for wildfire.

Over the last few years Cascadel residents have had to evacuate due to several wildfire events, most notably due to the Willow Fire of 2015 and last year’s North Fork Fire that raced up the hillside below the community near the Old Mill Site.

The threat of wildfire remains, and in response, the Cascadel Woods Property Owners Association Board of Directors pursued several grants with local partners and have successfully been awarded funds to assist residents in dealing with the tree mortality situation that has affected the community, with over 3,000 trees left dead from the drought and bark beetle epidemic. The grant funds were awarded through the California Fire Safe Council and Cal Fire’s more recent tree mortality grant programs.

Both grants allow for contract tree falling and removal from private properties within the Cascadel Woods subdivision. Approximately $40,000 has been spent during the month of May alone to remove these hazards with an additional $63,000 awarded under a second grant already under contract.

The work is being performed by Shane Killian Construction. Shane Killian is excited to assist the community and “see everybody working together, putting forth positive efforts and helping their neighbors out” with the tree removal efforts. The grants are being administered by the Yosemite Sequoia Resource Conservation and Development Council (YSRCDC) and the Foundation for Resource Conservation, Inc., both local nonprofits, with on-the-ground assistance and in-kind match from the Cascadel Woods Property Owners Association (CWPOA) and Cascadel Woods Mutual Water Company, including traffic control, logistics and record keeping and reporting.

In addition, the Cascadel Firewise Committee and Cascadel Fire Brigade are supporting these grants with in-kind match of labor including monthly chipping days to assist residents with reducing the community’s wildfire risk through a generous loan of a chipper from YSRCDC. A Wildfire Community Preparedness Day event was again held on May 6 in Cascadel Woods as part of a $500 grant received from the National Fire Protection Association sponsored by State Farm, who generously awarded a similar grant to the community last year. A major factor of the success of this work has been the assistance and coordination with Cal Fire’s Mount Bullion Crew which has been assisting the community for several weeks by supporting in-kind match for the grant of 20 crew days.

The Mount Bullion crew’s work has enabled the grant funds to go further by allowing the crews to cut dead hazard trees while the contract crew comes in behind them to remove and haul the logs to a storage facility located at the Old Mill Site. The crew can then resume collecting and chipping the hazardous fuels and slash left behind.

“Working together by following up behind the contractors has allowed us to maximize the workload and it is also great for the inmates doing the work to know it is for a good cause for the benefit of this community,” said Matt Arebalo, Cal Fire Captain for the Mount Bullion Crew.

All of this work to remove dead trees and address the tree mortality situation in Cascadel Woods is also being complemented through PG&E’s debris removal program which provides free assistance to residents by removing logs that were felled by PG&E from their properties. Previous contract tree removal work up to $33,000 through PG&E’s Hazardous Fuels Reduction grant program assisted the community through cutting and removal of dead trees on properties within the subdivision earlier this year.

During his presentation at the Firewise Day, Dan Tune, U.S. Forest Service Fire Prevention Battalion Chief commended the community on their hard work and notable efforts being been done in the community to reduce risk of wildfire. These sentiments were shared by Natasha Noble, one of several CAL FIRE representatives at the event who are currently conducting defensible space inspections on properties in Cascadel Woods to ensure that residents are performing their hazard clearing in a timely manner and to provide helpful tips and suggestions through their ReadyForWildifre campaign.

It is estimated that over a third of the dead trees have been removed from Cascadel Woods. However, more work is needed to continue efforts to address the tree mortality in Cascadel Woods and with that remains a need for further assistance and grant funding. The CWPOA Board of Directors are currently researching other grant opportunities to assist our continued efforts in removing hazard trees and reducing our risk of wildfire. Residents are very concerned with Governor Jerry Brown’s recent announcement of a revision to the 2017-2018 state budget which proposes a $50 million cut reducing funds to just $2 million Statewide in tree mortality funding and wondering what that means for communities that are still at risk from the lasting effects of the drought and tree mortality.

For questions, photos and additional information regarding Cascadel Woods Property Owners Association Board of Directors’ efforts to assist the community of Cascadel Woods through grants and partners helping to prepare the community for the coming fire season, please contact: Stan Eggink, President CWPOA at (559) 877-6290 or egginks@netptc.net or Aimee Cox, Secretary CWPOA at (559) 760-7235 aimeeleigh1209@gmail.com