After brutal fire season, Fire Safe Council works to restore lands

03 December 2020

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USA – PARADISE — Two years since the Camp Fire, what faces the ridge in winter after a year of devastating drought, unseasonable warmth and another destructive fire that threatened vulnerable survivors again?

The Butte County Fire Safe Council is hoping collaboration, home hardening and more fire prevention education will help with early preparations for 2021 in high risk areas.

The council’s executive director, Calli-Jane DeAnda, opened the annual summit Wednesday, at the end of the meteorological fire season, explaining how, over the last few decades, 400,000 acres of the county and 20,000 structures have burned.

Current project goals are set using data on fire return interval, including how many structures and acres can be treated.

DeAnda said success on fuel break and mitigation projects has already been seen although there is a strong need for fire restoration in post-fire areas like Berry Creek and Lake Madrone. The council plans to use a Cal Fire-Butte County grant in the area to work on roadside evacuation and assist with fuel reduction around Lake Madrone, with work likely to begin in January.

In post-fire areas, around 635 structures remain in those communities, she said. About 5,194 structures have survived in areas which escaped fires this year and earlier, with over 3,000 of those in Magalia.

These are referred to as “pre-fire” and DeAnda said there has been success with fire mitigation efforts in these areas like Cohasset, Forest Ranch and Big Chico Creek for creating defensible space and management plans on hundreds of acres.

Areas like Clipper Mills and Forbestown benefited from previous work and established fuel breaks helped avoid major damage from the North Complex fires, she added. New work in this area on fuel breaks began in November to affect 129 acres.

Oroville will also receive work soon in the Mt. Ida region with a 205-acre fuel reduction and roadside evacuation project. Magalia has benefited from Sierra Nevada conservancy funding, treating around 700 acres. Meanwhile 1,186 Paradise trees have been removed which threaten 65 structures, with many more coming down in December from state-managed tree removal.

And now, more resources using the Camp Fire Forest Management Plan are available for locals.

”We were able to build into our Cal Fire grant to create a forest management plan,” Assistant Director and Project Manager Taylor Nilsson said, and he got to unveil the online presentation of the plan itself.

The online version, when released, will invite interaction by community members to help explain the plan’s design for Paradise and the surrounding areas. Nilsson said the plan must take into account past, current and future conditions of the town’s landscape, while considering the land’s ecosystems and how they relate to fire.

There is also information for community members to help with reforestation and hardening existing homes, or building new homes for fire. He emphasized the importance of “landowners who come together to form a community that is fire safe.”

Other opportunities

Battalion Chief Mike Waters, who spoke for Cal Fire-Butte County Chief John Messina, added the current fire abatement ordinance which was enhanced November 2019 could be expanded again.

Waters said he and Messina are working on the abatement policy together and with Butte County Code Enforcement, and plan to present new proposals in January for the council’s board of directors to consider adopting.

Opportunities for using local biomass (forest and agricultural byproducts) are still under review using a grant from the North Valley Community Foundation, according to Project Manager Jim Houtman.

A decision on how to use biomass to help prescribed fire and thinning projects is “close” he said and it is hoped there will be further discussion in January. The council is looking to fill the new position of timber and biomass manager.

Facing other problems

Restoring the land is a longer process which land owners and community members can join hands on, including runoff prevention and replanting trees.

Forest Health Watershed Coordinator Wolfy Rougle said most landowners in the North Complex burn area won’t be able to get much tree planting done in 2021 — “in fact, 2021 will be our biggest season replanting Camp Fire parcels!”

”Waiting two or more years to replant after fire is not uncommon,” she added. ”It is generally considered best practices to wait at least one year after a severe fire to replant; this allows the landowner to start to see natural regeneration, and make better replanting decisions.”

Rougle did note some landowners are able to remove trees “much faster after the North Complex fires than after the Camp Fire.”

“Landowners who have completed dead/hazard tree removal, and don’t have many surviving trees, and never had many hardwoods that will resprout, can potentially get some planting done in spring 2021. They could even plant a few hardwoods right now in December.”

For more about replanting after wildfire, Rougle recommended the new Resource Conservation District of Butte County recovery website.

Other issues faced by homeowners when rains return will be toxic runoff. DeAnda said the county continues to hear from concerned individuals but at this time, those who are concerned about land degradation and runoff around their lots in post-fire areas can turn to Matthew Trumm at The Bear Fire Restoration Project.

Trumm’s post fire remediation and restoration action project was created under The Camp Fire Restoration Project in partnership with the Ecosystem Restoration Camps movement.

Trumm will host a special event Saturday in Berry Creek for North Complex and Bear Fire survivors to help give out resources and educate on best practices to remediate damages and heal the land. The event will take place  9:30 a.m. to noon at Berry Creek Community Church located at 1461 Bald Rock Road in Berry Creek.

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