Youth army battles wildfires before they start

Youth army battles wildfires before they start

21 March 2014

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USA — The California Conservation Corps, which currently has about 1,500 members, said Friday it will be hiring about 200 more.

About half the new hires will assist with the implementation of water conservation programs.

The other half will be deployed to clear thick brush from some of the areas most vulnerable to fire.

A crew of 14 corps members worked Friday afternoon to clear brush from Indian Grinding Rock State Park near Pine Grove.

“It was thick,” crew supervisor Aaron Bayhon said. “At some points, you could not see through it. We had trouble navigating (and) walking through it.”

Orange marks on bark showed crew members which trees need to be removed from a 7-acre patch of the park that was chosen for thinning because it borders nearby homes.

“I’m happy about it,” said Linda Backes, who lives in a remote area near the park.

Backes said if a fire had swept through the dense underbrush in the park, it probably would not have stopped at the park’s edge.

“My husband and I, we talk about it all the time,” Backes said. “Like, make sure that all of our hoses are intact.”

A drought bill signed earlier this month by Gov. Jerry Brown will provide an additional $5 million for the corps’ brush-clearing operations.

“There is more to do than we can do with $5 million. But we can be strategic about locating our crews in areas where there is high concern for the residential communities near the forest lands,” Martha Diepenbrock said.

She said crews soon would begin living in tent camps so that they spend less time driving and more time doing the actual work.

The crew assigned to Indian Grinding Rock State Park tossed the tree cuttings into piles, which eventually will be burned.

However, the crew supervisor said the burning will probably have to wait until next year, because much of the foothills are already too dry.

The crew will head next to Calaveras Big Trees State Park to clear brush from around giant sequoias.

Corps members must be California residents between 18 and 25 years old. They make minimum wage.

“As long as everybody pushes and pushes, we can keep doing what we’re doing,” corps member Antoine Cook said. “Not much else matters out here. As long as everybody works hard and be a team, we can do anything.”

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