Fire & Forest: Defensible space and grants …

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This week I’d like to introduce Pat Boss, our project manager for Mountain Communities Fire Safe Council.

Those of you who have been around this mountain for any length of time, and I’m talking 50-plus years or more, may have known him as a lad wreaking havoc in his youth. He had bit parts in local movies, was successful in real estate and had a career with the U.S. Forest Service. He and his wife, Jan, owned and operated the original Jan’s Red Kettle for many years.

His knowledge of the forest and the topography is what makes Pat a valuable resource in our community through his position.

When a homeowner, seeking help in making their property fire safe, makes contact with our office, they are generally put in touch with Pat. An appointment is made to meet at the property with the owner.

Once at the property, our project manager will observe the boundaries of the parcel, and see how any work that might be done may also benefit neighboring property. The scope of the work to be done is always designed around Public Resource Code, section 4291, defensible space.

The state Legislature enacted this mandate in 2005. “Under the law, property owners in mountainous areas, forest-covered lands or any land that is covered with flammable material must create, at minimum, a 100-foot defensible space (or to the property line) around their homes and other structures.” This does not mean the property must be clear cut to bare soil.

Pat will walk and evaluate the property to see how best to accomplish the reduction and thinning of excess fuels. Vegetation is flagged or marked for trimming or removal. All of this is done with the goal of meeting the requirements of PRC 4291.

This process also becomes an education for the homeowner as the benefits of this work on their particular parcel is explained by Pat. He may also offer other suggestions based on his observations on how to further protect one’s home in the event of a wildfire.

This consultation and property evaluation is provided at no cost from MCFSC.

The property owner can choose to do the work themselves, if they are able, or use someone they have worked with before. If the work suggested is large and quite involved, the owner may want to consider a licensed tree contractor.

Financial aid through MCFSC is grant money that can be applied for fuel-reduction work.

Here is an example. Let’s say this homeowner decides to take advantage of our grant. An application would be filled out between owner and MCFSC. Pat’s description and narrative of the design, work to be done and job specifications are documented. This document is then put out to bid to a pool of local, licensed and insured tree contractors who meet the requirements of MCFSC and the grant.

They have one week to inspect or evaluate the job and submit their bid to perform the work outlined in the request. The project manager and one board member open the submitted bids. The bid for the job is then awarded to the lowest bidder.

Should the property owner agree with going forward in using the financial aid of the grant, a Property Owners Agreement is signed and payment of the owners cost share is collected.

The tree contractor will then contact the owner and schedule the work. When the work is completed, Pat makes an inspection. He adds “after” photos to go with those taken before work was begun to document and go in the file that has been created.

If the property owner is satisfied with the work, they will sign off on the Property Owners Agreement form. The tree contractor is notified that the work is completed and he submits his paperwork for payment. The homeowner’s cost-share payment is then deposited.

Our grants are a 65/35 cost share, meaning that the grant pays for 65 percent of the cost and the property owner pays 35 percent. For example, a property owner would only pay $350 of a $1,000 job.

We apply and obtain most of our grants from the California Fire Safe Council.

With this work completed, the goal is not only for this property to pass its annual fire inspection that both Cal Fire and Idyllwild Fire Protection District perform on our mountain, but to make to it more defensible in the event of a wildfire.

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