Cal Fire recently awarded grants totaling just under $776,000 to organizations in Tuolumne County for projects that will create fuel breaks and assist communities in becoming recognized as Firewise USA sites through the National Fire Protection Association.

The grants for fire prevention were announced earlier this month and went to the Highway 108 FireSafe Council, Groveland Community Services District, Tuolumne County Fire Department and Tuolumne County Office of Emergency Services.

“As our crews are busy right now performing fuel reduction work and conducting defensible space inspections, funding these projects will add significant fire prevention efforts to combat California’s severe fire risk,” said Chief Thomas Porter, director of Cal Fire, in a press release announcing the grants.

A grant for $414,960 was awarded to the Highway 108 FireSafe Council for a project to construct a shaded fuel break that will reduce wildfire risk and greenhouse gas emissions for the Ponderosa Hills and Mira Monte subdivisions, township of Tuolumne, and Tuolumne Rancheria.

There are reportedly about 1,400 homes in the area of the project.

The fuel break also aims to protect Turnback Creek, which feeds into the Tuolumne Utilities District open-air ditch system that delivers drinking water to much of the northern part of the county.

Groveland Community Services District received a grant for $166,300 to create an approximately 111-acre shaded fuel break by hiring private contractors to grind and chip brush, small trees and other combustible vegetation around the district’s property line.

According to the project description, the fuel break will help firefighters protect downtown Groveland and GCSD’s critical water and sewer infrastructure. It will also segment with a fuel break to the north to provide additional benefit.

Funding for both of the grants to create fuel breaks came from the state’s California Climate Investments program, which has provided billions of dollars in cap-and-trade money for work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, strengthen the economy, and improve the health of people and the environment in disadvantaged communities, Cal Fire stated.

The Tuolumne County Office of Emergency Services received a grant for $96,040 from Cal Fire’s Community Wildfire Prevention program that aims to help more areas of the county become Firewise USA sites.

“It’s providing funding so that we can work with communities and assist them in forming these Firewise sites,” said Jason Terry, an administrative analyst in county Office of Emergency Services.

Terry said they have started the process of determining how the county’s program will work since getting the news about receiving the grant.

The National Fire Protection Association launched the Firewise USA program in the early 2000s with the U.S. Forest Service and state forestry organizations to reduce the number of homes being destroyed by wildfires.

There are more than 1,500 active Firewise sites across the country, including 193 in California.

Tuolumne County only has one Firewise site called TELLARA, which stands for Terrace Lambert Lake Access Road Area and includes the neighborhoods of Lambert Lake Estates, Christian Heights and Whispering Woods in East Sonora.

The site was established earlier this month by a small group of neighbors who came together because they were concerned about destructive wildfires following the Camp Fire in November that burned through the town of Paradise in Butte County and killed more than 80 people.

Benefits of becoming a Firewise site include informational material on ways to protect homes from fires, access to state and federal grants for projects, and potential discounts on homeowners insurance, but the program is largely about organizing neighbors to help each other do the work necessary to make their community safer.

At a public meeting earlier this month, the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors expressed a desire for the county to help facilitate more Firewise sites as part of an overall effort to help local communities become more resilient to fire.

The Tuolumne County Fire Department also received a grant for $98,535 from Cal Fire’s Community Wildfire Prevention program to purchase a Caterpillar compact track loader to help with mastication work, which involves grinding, chipping or breaking apart brush, small trees, and other vegetation that can serve as fuel for fires.

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.




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