By Larry Crabtree

Tuolumne County has had many close calls from wildland fire just in the last five years. It has narrowly escaped devastation such as that seen from the Camp Fire, Carr Fire, Ranch Fire, Tubbs Fire and others just within the last five years.

In the aftermath of the Rim Fire there was speculation and discussion regarding the state of fire prevention in our Tuolumne County. That fire, and other recent fires in various areas of California serve as a reminder that we live in fire prone country.

While fire prevention policies and ordinances are not always popular, one would be hard pressed at this time to argue that they are not needed. The longer we (Tuolumne County residents) wait to adopt and implement fire prevention rules, the more difficult it will be.

There is no better time than now to review and critique what needs to happen to provide an increased level of protection to our communities, homes, and people.

Fire prevention policies in our Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) should be modeled after, but expand upon, the Cal Fire rules found in the Public Resources Code (section 4290, 4291). Following these time-tested definitions and standards (as a starting point) will provide some level of defense and sound, proven, concepts. Some points to consider:

All residents should have defensible space as that is defined in PRC 4291 (30’ / 100’). Where one property owner’s property is within that space, the property owner should provide the defined clearance – even if the residence is not his. In other words, property owners should clear their property where it impinges on the standard defensible space of a neighbor.

Vacant lots in certain defined residentially zoned areas should be cleared of flammable vegetation following the same guidelines found in PRC 4291 regarding fuel height crown separation, elimination / reduction of ‘ladder fuels’, etc.

Enforcement should be somewhat self-funding with some or all of the costs funded from fines and penalties of non-compliant property owners.

It should be a county-wide ordinance (look to other counties for examples); however enforcement by local fire agencies should be allowed for and encouraged, as well as cost recovery mechanisms for the local fire agency’s enforcement costs.

It must be a policy that ensures timely compliance. For example, initial inspections in early spring, followed by final inspections in late spring. Non-compliant properties should be cleared by private contractors pursuant to county direction, and a lien placed against the property ensuring the county recovers its costs. Both compliant and non-compliant properties must be brought into compliance before the late summer when the potential for devastating wildfires is the greatest.

This sort of policy / ordinance will be hotly debated; however, no one can reasonably argue that a comprehensive prevention policy will benefit all of us in Tuolumne County.

We chose to live in the WUI; and we choose to continue living in the WUI. We owe it to ourselves, our neighbors, and our firefighters to provide some level of prevention from the rapid uncontrolled spread of wildfire.

This duty comes along with the privilege of living where we do in the forest.

Larry Crabtree was employed by Cal Fire for 33 years where he worked as a firefighter, engineer, captain, battalion chief, chief of labor relations, and retired as the state safety officer in 2006. He also served as the fire chief for the Mi-Wuk Sugar Pine Fire Protection District for five years prior to his retirement in May 2018. Larry and his wife, Sue, live in Mi Wuk Village. Since 2007 they have owned and operated Crabtree Consulting Services, LLC (CCS), a female owned small business focused on the needs of small public agencies in California.