31 May 2009

Wildfire Awareness Fair Recap

Yesterday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Western Hills Park and Chino Valley Fire Station 64 was the Wildfire Awareness Fair. I was there from about 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and there were probably 80 or more visitors there, in addition to Carbon Canyon Fire Safe Council members and volunteers, fire department personnel, and vendors and exhibitors, so it seemed pretty well-attended.

Some of the vendors and exhibitors included the Inland Empire Utilities Agency; Santa Ana Watershed Association; Farmer's Insurance; State Farm Insurance; Fresh 'n Easy markets; The Home Depot; Hills for Everyone; and the fire departments of Chino Valley, Brea, and the State of California (CalFire.)

There were also some firefighting vehicles from Brea, Chino Valley and CalFire for visitors to see and the waterwise garden, featuring many fire-resistant plants, was also highlighted. This latter is a surprisingly large area adjacent to the fire station and Carbon Canyon Road that is worth a look by anyone looking to create or refashion their landscaping to conserve water and mitigate fire risk. It's available to view at any time and visitors could always park at Western Hills Park and cross Canon Lane to access the path just between the station and Carbon Canyon Road. Signs giving the common and scientific names for the plants are there, as well.

Among the vendors of fire-related products were Vulcan Vent, a company that makes a coated expanded aluminum vent to stop embers from entering a home through soffits, gables and eaves; Thermo Technologies, manufacturer of "Thermo-Gel" and "Thermo-Foam," products sprayed onto structures and into fire areas, respectively; TimberSil, a maker of a "glass wood" product, a non-toxic combination of silica harvested from rice and wood that is fire retardant, preventive against rot and decay and is EPA-approved for its non-toxic barrier status; and HCR, Inc., which produces the Bulls-Eye hose nozzle, a solid brass, integrated product that generates 50% more water flow using less water and designed for use fighting wild fires in the home environment.

In all, there was a lot to learn and absorb and, hopefully, those who attended came away with some practical ways to improve their fire protection strategies for their homes. With another year of low rainfall, the fire season is going to start earlier and last longer. Brush clearance, mitigation measures inside and outside the home, an evacuation plan, and other aspects become more and more important in conditions like these in a place like Carbon Canyon.

This leads to the last exhibitor to mention from the fair: a member of the Chino Valley Independent Fire District who was there to discuss a new "vegetation reduction project." This came out of a 2005 grant proposal submitted by the department to FEMA and which was successful. The final step in the project is now nearly completed, this being the mandatory review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which should be nothing more than a formality.

The purpose of the project is to remove "ladder fuels," low-lying vegetation, including tree branches hanging below six feet from ground level, that can cause fire to climb into trees and other taller components within a 400-acre area on the San Bernardino County portion of the Canyon.

In the grant, it was pointed out that there have were eleven "significant" fires from 1978 to 2002 within Carbon Canyon, scorching a total of 44,635 acres. The largest of these were in 1978, 1983 and 1990. Of course, last fall's Freeway Complex Fire must now be added to the list. Of note in this section of the proposal: "Since 1990, the number of homes in Carbon Canyon have increased substantially, greatly increasing the potential loss due to fire."

The removal project was then (2005) slated to cost $540,000 over three years with a seven year "useful life" and a calculation of just shy of $1 million of project benefit from reducing damage incidents in future fires was also given.

Also of interest was the 2003 tax base estimates for improved property, not land, in the several neighborhoods in the project's scope: Carriage Hills at around $45 million; Oak Tree Downs/Estates at $42 million; Western Hills Oaks (off Valley Springs Road south of Carbon Canyon Road) at $18 million; Sleepy Hollow at $10 million; Mountain View Estates (Canon Lane south of Carbon Canyon Road) at $9 million; and the Western Hills Mobile Home Park at $1 million--for a total of $125 million. The estimated population for 477 units was 1,371 persons.

A map of the mitigation area shows that the perimeter runs from the western edge of Oak Tree Downs south and west to Sleepy Hollow and then heading eastward along the southern perimeter of that neighborhood towards and through Mountain View Estates, Western Hills Oaks and at the edge of Vellano. Almost all of the work would be done by hand-cutting with small portions accomplished mechanically.

As the CEQA review is completed and work scheduled and begun, we'll try to post progress here. Meantime, Deputy Fire Marshal Kevin Smith can be reached for questions at ksmith@confire.org.

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