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Shaded fuel break along Highway 89 is work of McCloud man, several agencies

Shareen Strauss
Retired CAL FIRE Captain and McCloud resident Steve Richardson stands where the forest has been cleared along Highway 89 as a fuel break to protect his town from wildfires. Collaborating with state and federal agencies, Richardson, who is part of the McCloud Fire Safe Council, is planning to continuing this fuel break from McCloud to Mount Shasta.

Beatific changes along Highway 89 between McCloud and Mount Shasta where the underbrush has been cleared and trees thinned is actually a fuel break to help protect the town of McCloud and the highway from wildfires. 

McCloud resident Steve Richardson led a coalition of the McCloud Fire Safe Council, Caltrans, U.S. Forest Service and CAL FIRE to create what’s known as a “shaded fuel break.”  

Richardson explained that this type of clearing is an effective means to protect the highway and McCloud from future wildland fire. 

“Most fires start and spread quickly through the dry flammable woody underbrush occupying the first 10 feet or so from the ground,” he said. “By removing the underbrush and leaving a few trees to grow will shade out and delay or prevent reestablishment of the underbrush for a much longer time than with traditional methods like total clearing.” 

All the brush removed was chipped and spread back over the open area of the firebreak helping to slow future undergrowth.  

This joint agency fuel break project has yielded an unexpected surprise from the past: Just east of the summit of Snowman Hill, a long-forgotten relic was found. A wooden water-holding tank once used for thirsty animals and travelers going to the Mountain House, a thriving stopover in the late 19th century between what was then Sisson and Squaw Valley. The structure, now easily visible just to the north of Highway 89, is said to have been built in 1889. 

With knowledge and experience from his 36 years working for the U.S Forest Service and CAL FIRE, Richardson held various leadership positions including Fire Captain for CAL FIRE. 

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Richardson is also collaborating with private landowners along with state agencies to help keep cost to a minimum and keep the community informed.   From his experience fighting and directing battles against wildfires both in Southern California and in Shasta-Siskiyou forests, he understands more than most how land topography, vegetation and weather conspire to change what might be a very manageable wildfire into a raging wildlands inferno similar to those we have seen too many of these past few years. 

Along with Forester Consultant Ron Berryman, Richardson wants people to know that this firebreak alone will not completely stop a wildfire.  

“I hope that people don’t get complacent because of the firebreak and not clean up around their properties,” said Berryman. “A firebreak is a first line of defense. Wind driven fires can blow fires past these breaks so people have to help protect their homes by keeping their properties fire safe also.”

McCloud Fire Safe Council received grant funding for this project. The plan is to continue this firebreak along Highway 89 all the way to Interstate 5.

The McCloud Fire Safe Council is a subsidiary to the California Fire Safe Council. 

“The Highway 89 project is the first phase in what we hope will become a fuel break around at least a partial perimeter of McCloud,” said Margot Grissom, secretary of the McCloud Fire Safe Council.

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