At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors’ meeting, Nevada County’s Office of Emergency Services (OES) brought forward several wildfire planning and mitigation projects for approval, including three new large-scale community defense zones.
Because 92% of Nevada County residents live in high to very high fire hazard severity zones, OES continues its proactive effort to protect against loss of life and property year-round.
“Creating more protection with shaded fuel breaks, improving evacuation routes, and supporting landowners to create defensible space helps move us closer to our goal,” said OES Director Craig Griesbach. “Today’s Board action moves us forward with 1,000 acres of new protection for western Nevada County residents. The Board also approved our grant application to update the County’s Community Wildfire Protection Plan, which is a critical next step to support this work for years to come.”
Three Shaded Fuel-Breaks to Protect Western Nevada County
Fire Safe Council of Nevada County presented with OES on the South County Shaded Fuel Break, a 339-acre project for 226 privately owned parcels near Alta Sierra. Treatment will improve evacuation routes by addressing heavy fuels within 75 feet of either side on parts of Lodestar, Buck Mountain, Brewer Roads, and Sharmiden Way.
“Working with OES and CAL FIRE on crucial evacuation clearing projects is an important part of the work we do. We want the community to be engaged and consider themselves partners in this work. Starting this month, we're going to have a project kickoff with a town hall for people in the project footprint area,” said Fire Safe Council Executive Director Jamie Jones.
Supervisors also accepted CAL FIRE grant funds for the Woodpecker Ravine Shaded Fuel Break, a 410-acre project that will treat private property along key evacuation routes, including Rattlesnake, Lower Colfax, and Mount Olive Roads. The project also focuses on strategic ridgelines to create a cohesive wildfire defense zone. CAL FIRE provided over $3 million in grant funding for the South County Shaded Fuel Break and the Woodpecker Ravine Shaded Fuel Break both of which are priority projects in CAL FIRE’s Nevada-Yuba-Placer (NEU) Strategic Plan.
“Evacuation safety is our number one priority. These shaded fuel breaks help get residents out and first responders in to fight a fire,” said CAL FIRE NEU Chief Estes. “More fuels reduction projects around protection of communities are a priority for the Nevada Yuba Placer Unit.”
The Woodpecker Ravine Shaded Fuel Break is just one piece of an ambitious holistic project planned for Woodpecker Ravine that will serve as a regional model for wildfire resilience. Nevada County OES recently learned that the project has advanced to environmental and cultural review and that FEMA funding through the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) Program is expected to be obligated in Fall 2023. The project will include defensible space treatments, home hardening, and education and requires a significant 25% local match.
“Woodpecker Ravine has over 700 homes tucked within a steep drainage that has dense vegetation, and downed trees that have turned into fuel after the winter storms. We are grateful to CAL FIRE for their support of this project and are hopeful that local investment will allow us to pull down more federal dollars to really make an impact,” added Griesbach.
With Ponderosa West Phase 1 wrapping up in Spring 2022, over $1.5 million has been secured for the Ponderosa, West Grass Valley Defense Zone Phase 2 Project, which will be funded by $750,000 of Congressionally Directed Spending (Community Project Funding) and $772,282 of County match dollars. The project expands on Phase 1, adding 300 treated acres of private property to the project footprint, and will result in protection for the communities of Grass Valley, Penn Valley, Rough and Ready, and Alta Sierra. OES is actively seeking funding to support fuels reduction on 400 acres of BLM land and another 300 acres of private land that are part of the larger Phase 2 vision for the Ponderosa West Grass Valley Defense Zone.
“Having three large-scale shaded fuel break projects moving forward simultaneously is unprecedented for us. However, we still know the need outpaces our current resources,” said Griesbach. “In recent meetings with stakeholders, we’ve identified over 60 wildfire mitigation projects and programs that would require $36 million annually to complete, and that’s what we’re working towards.”
Updates to the Community Wildfire Protection Plan
Since 2016, many priority projects included in Nevada County’s Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) have been implemented, and technical expertise, fire behavior modeling, and hazard and risk assessment methodology have evolved. Supervisors approved OES to apply to the Community Wildfire Defense Grant (CWDG) Program to update the County’s CWPP, an undertaking that would leverage existing California Fire Safe Council Grant funding for the required CWDG match.
“Our vision is to create an interactive project dashboard, a land management plan with best practices for treatment – all of the tools needed to design thoughtful projects that are responsive to the priorities of our fire experts and our community,” said OES Senior Analyst Alex Keeble-Toll.