Creating defensible space has been proven to reduce the chance a home will ignite during a wildland fire. Yet many residents do not complete work on their own property even when exposed to consistent education and outreach campaigns. The reasons many homeowners do not create defensible space are numerous but include cost, difficulty of disposing of material and in many cases simple fatalism. Many homeowners state that there is no reason to complete defensible space work if their neighbor hasn’t also done the work because their house is just going to burn anyway.
Beginning in 2013 Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District began a Community Work Days program to address the barriers to creating defensible space, such as cost, slash disposal and fuel loading on undeveloped lots that sit in many Lake Tahoe communities. The Tahoe Douglas Fire District is composed of eight regions with each region having one Saturday a year designated as its Community Work Day. During a Community Work Day, the Fire District’s Zephyr Fire Crew drives each street in the designated region and does general brush clearing or small tree removal for homeowners who flag them down. A separate squad drives each road in the community chipping any piles of brush, limbs or small trees that homeowners pile beside the road. A third squad completes a defensible space prescription on one of the many undeveloped parcels intermixed throughout the community.
The program helps motivate people to work on their properties during the Community Work Day by supporting them when they lack the tools or skills. Many homeowners have the tools to do basic yard work, but lack the chain saws or pole saws necessary to cut native brush or small trees. Additionally, homeowners have been especially appreciative of the fuel reduction work that has been completed on the undeveloped lots during the Community Work Day.
The Tahoe Douglas Fire District is trying to design the most efficient system for managing the time spent on one parcel while delivering services to all of the people who request assistance. If homeowner’s call prior to the Community Work Day then the Fire District’s defensible space inspector can evaluate the property and estimate the time commitment to complete the work. If, however, the resident flags down the Zephyr Crew, which is encouraged, the Fire District have to help manage the resident’s expectations for what can be accomplished that day, versus hiring a professional landscaper or arborist to do the work.
Funding for the program is being provided by the Fire Safe Community Fund, an ad valorem tax passed by the voters in the Fire District in 2008 for community fuels reduction. The program is in its infancy; however, initial indications are that the program is being well received by the community and the Fire District is committed to maintaining the program for future years and working out the details of how to best manage the program.
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