Fuel break project in Weed nears completion

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald
Weed Fire Department Captain Matt Hill walks the perimeter of the fuel break behind WHS and explains that the area on the other side of the fence is what this area looked like before the brush was cleared.

The Weed City Fuel Break project is creating “defensible space” in eight areas to help protect the city of Weed and nearby communities from fires.

Defensible space is an area where “flammable vegetation” has been reduced, creating fuel breaks that prevent fires from spreading.

Due to high winds, Weed is an area of high fire risk.  The grant proposal says the fuel breaks “will provide additional protection for the infrastructure of the area. When the next wildfire encroaches on a fuel break, the fire control agencies will be more able to minimize the damages.” It also says, “The open, park-like stands will be more aesthetically pleasing to the community.”

Last Thursday, Firestorm, a Chico company contracted by the City of Weed, completed work on 11 1/2 acres behind Weed High School.  They thinned the brush and trees to reduce the fire hazard.

“I just love it. I can see the meadow,” said Jeannie Neptune who walks her dogs on the road behind WHS. Weed Fire Department Captain Matt Hill said the brush was 12 feet tall in some areas. Neptune believes that opening up the area will keep people from using it as a dump. Hill said they found some garbage when they removed the brush.

He said Firestorm used one hand crew and a masticator – a machine that mulches brush and wood – to reduce brush and thin trees. “We don’t do full clear-cuts,” said Hill. He said they leave as many trees as possible to create “shaded fuel breaks.”

Scott Tavalero, a CAL FIRE Battalion Chief for Siskiyou and volunteer for the Weed Fire Department,  said, “The more shade we get keeps the brush from growing back.” He said brush is a “ladder fuel” that helps the fire travel up into the trees.

The response from the community was supportive, Hill said. “I haven’t heard one negative comment.” He said residents living close by could not remember when the area had last been thinned.  This newly created defensible space behind WHS and along Hillside Drive will help protect the east side of Weed, Roseburg Mill, Carrick Addition, and Angel Valley.

WHS senior Chelsea Quigley plans to improve the area with a cross-country running trail for her senior project. Four holes of a disc golf course started by Robert Aquila are also located in the area.

A five acre piece around Boles Creek is the final area to be completed. It is currently being thinned-out by local CAL FIRE hand crews and Weed Volunteer Fire Department crews. Tavalero said grant funding is running out, which is the reason contractors could not be hired for this area.

Along with helping to protect the city of Weed from fires, clearing bushes and thinning trees from the area will leave it open and more easily patrolled for transients camping there, Hill said. “A lot of homeless will move in and have cooking fires.”  Historically their cooking fires have caused larger fires, he said.

Hill said they plan to leave as many trees as possible also in this area to shade the creek.

The Boles Creek area is private property, but obtaining permission to clear the brush was not a problem said Hill. The area should be completed by winter said Tavalero.

In the spring, CAL FIRE Deadwood crews finished hand clearing 100 feet from five water towers (except the Woodridge water tower) and 30 feet on both sides of their access roads. Weed CAL FIRE Station and Weed Volunteer Fire Department crews did the Woodridge water tower area.

Hill said 30 feet is the recommended clearance for fire protection around homes also. It is the defensive area that CAL FIRE needs around an area to save a structure and is a law now, said Tavalero. 100 feet around a structure needs to be clean of continuous fuel.

Creating fuel breaks in the Boles Creek and WHS areas and around the six water towers is the last of four phases of “fuel modification projects” planned for the city of Weed.

According to the grant proposal, “Phase I started along Highway 97 and Carrick Avenue and proceeded one mile to the south under the PacificCorp transmission lines. Phase II was the next 2.2 miles on land owned and managed by Roseburg Forest Product Company. Phase III utilized Union Pacific Railroad tracks and existing private road systems for an additional 3,500 feet in width.

To fund the Weed City Fuel Break project a grant proposal for federal funds was started early in 2009 by then Administrative Captain Scott Tavalero and Weed Volunteer Fire Chief and Cal Fire Battalion Chief Darin Quigley. As the current Administrative Captain, Hill is facilitating the project.

Phases I, II and III were completed within the last six years.

Tavalero said they will continue to apply for grants to help maintain the fuel break areas.

Hill said he believes he is seeing more deer return to areas that were previously cleared to feed on new growth. He is hoping to see Bracken Fern start to grow in areas recently cleared. “It benefits everyone,” he said.

The fuel break area recently created behind Weed High School helps protect the east side of Weed, Roseburg Mill, Carrick Addition and Angel Valley from fires.