Fire prevention is everyone’s job

With little snow and rain, and warm winter temperatures up and down the state, including our Mountain Area, fire officials are warning of the threat of an early and long fire season. Some say big wildland fires are inevitable.

About 300 seasonal firefighters have already been called to work in California.

The Cal Fire Madera-Mariposa-Merced unit brought in 74 seasonal firefighters Monday (about 30 to Eastern Madera County) to begin up to three weeks of training. The stations in the three-county unit will be at peak staffing by May 18, with just under 100 firefighters at 11 stations (46 in Eastern Madera County).

Traditionally staffing does not expand until around May 15, with peak staffing around June 15, but with the current drought and fuel conditions, Gov. Jerry Brown issued an executive order for additional winter and spring staffing.

Cal Fire stations in Eastern Madera County include Rancheira on Road 200, Raymond, Coarsegold, Bass Lake, and Ahwahnee. Madera County stations staffed with Cal Fire personnel include Oakhurst (Station 12), and Indian Lakes (Station 8).

Madera County Fire Volunteer stations include Raymond (Co. 15), Bass Lake (Co. 14), Cedar Valley (Co. 18), Ahwahnee (Co. 16), North Fork (Co. 11), YLP (Co. 10), Coarsegold (Co. 13), and O’Neals (Co. 17). Volunteer stations are not staffed and depend on volunteers to be in the area , and available to respond. Although the volunteers (PCFs - paid call firefighters) are dedicated and valuable to our communities, their numbers have dramatically dwindled over the years for a number of reasons, not the least being the training hours are the same as for a full time firefighter.

Due to the warm weather, lack of water, and millions of bark beetles who have attacked weak and defenseless trees, our Mountain Area has a tremendous amount of dead trees. Add to that overgrown forests due to limits on logging and fire suppression efforts. The Nature Conservancy released a report last year stating that controlled burns and brush removal can cut the severity of forest fires by 75%.

Fire officials are also looking ahead to the many visitors who will be enjoying the great outdoors this summer in Eastern Madera County, especially on peak holiday weekends. The Fourth of July weekend celebration, that often brings people with fireworks to the Mountain Area, will be especially threatening. The Bass Lake Chamber of Commerce made a pro-active decision to cancel the 78-year tradition of a fireworks display over the water, replacing it with a laser light show. Just as a reminder - all fireworks are illegal in Eastern Madera County.

How bad do things look? Firefighters have been called to more than 800 wildland fires already this year, compared to under 500 in a ‘normal’ year. Statewide, there were 129 new wildfires over the past week - a 75% increase in wildfires and a 182% increase in acres burned over an average year.

The writing is on the wall, and fire officials can’t stress enough the importance of providing defensible space around your home - defensible space that could stop a wildfire from destroying your home and its valuable contents. It needs to be done now ... not later.

Neighborhoods need to mirror the efforts of residents of North Shore Estates at Bass Lake, and the Timberview area subdivision off Road 426, who have done a great job in reducing brush and trimming trees to provide better protection from a wildfire.

If you need a reminder of the horrifying destruction a wildfire can leave in its wake, drive up Road 426 to Bass Lake Heights where the Courtney Fire destroyed 30 homes and broke many more hearts. Drive slowly down Manzanita Dr. and Cedar Dr. with your windows down. You can still smell the stench of burnt structures and trees. Look at the brick chimneys that stand, like eerie sentinels, over what were once family homes. It’s a smell and sight you won’t soon forget.

See the “Creating Fire Safety in Our Mountain Communities” special section of today’s paper for additional information and resources to make you as Firewise as possible.

Fire prevention is every property owner’s job - Not only to protect your home or business, but to protect the homes and businesses around you. Many area residents have taken advantage of the mild winter weather to do a lot of brushing and weed-eating, but many more need to get the job done.

Karen Guillemin-Kanawyer, a fire prevention specialist with Cal Fire said it best: “It’s a choice to live in wildland areas, but along with that choice comes the responsibility to provide your home with defensible space. It could be catastrophic not to. It’s not if a fire will occur this fire season, but when.”