Fire Safe Council feels budget burn

Fire Safe Council feels budget burn

8 January 2009

published by

USA — Work on several local projects aimed to reduce the threat of wildfire have been halted in light of the state’s economic crisis.

Three projects sponsored by the Butte County Fire Safe Council, have been affected by the state’s Dec. 17 decision to freeze infrastructure spending throughout California

Fire Safe Council Executive Director Calli-Jane Burch said several hundred thousand dollars of the organization’s grant money is essentially frozen, halting progress on the Feather Falls Shaded Fuel Break, the Butte Creek Canyon Fuel Break and the group’s chipper program.

“This has affected us quite significantly,” Burch said.

The Feather Falls project is halfway completed, with the fuel break in Butte Creek Canyon only one-quarter of the way done.

Both projects involve the clearing and chipping of fire fuels in their respective areas in order to reduce wildfire threat, protect watershed habitat, provide safer access to firefighters in case of a fire and clearer exit routes for residents.

Burch said work on both projects completely stopped as soon as she was notified about the Pooled Money Investment Board’s decision, with brush piles still lying on the ground.

“We were in the middle of working and just had to stop,” Burch said. “There are piles of brush waiting to be chipped or burned that we just have to leave until we get the green light.”

The funding for the break in Feather Falls comes largely from the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, with funding for the Butte Creek Canyon break and the residential chipper program provided by Proposition 40.

The $2.6 billion proposition was passed in 2002 to provide local assistance grants for projects that improve the environment and public safety.

Without the funding, these projects will lie dormant, with the opportunity to complete the work shrinking every day.

“We have a small window to work in,” Burch said. “Our work has to be completed before the fire season begins, which is the end of May.”

Joshpae White, Cal Fire-Butte County public information officer, called the loss of funding a “big blow” to firefighters and public safety.

White said the breaks are a huge resource to firefighters, helping to reduce the intensity of fires and giving fire officials an edge over threatening flames.

Though fire may not be on everyone’s mind in early January, White said work completed now assists in reducing the threat of fire this summer.

“This is the time we need to be preparing for the upcoming fire season,” White said. “We’d like to see this fixed sooner rather than later.”

Burch is hopeful that fuel break work can begin again. Through federal funding the chipping program will still continue. Without state funding, however, the program will be unable to reach the number of residents it typically could.

The project provides Butte County residents with free chipping on trees and brush they have cleared to reduce wildfire threat.

Burch said homeowners should continue to utilize the free resources the council provides as long as they can and use the work that has been completed on the fuel breaks as a model for what their land should look like.

“Unfortunately with the grant stopped, everyone needs to take the personal responsibility to make their lives safe from fire,” Burch said. “Until our projects are back up and running, residents will have to take it upon themselves to reduce their wildfire threat and improve their safety.”

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