West End Fire Safe project clears brush
When the Santa Ana winds strike this fall, residents in an area on the west side of Ramona, south of Highway 67, are going to feel much safer, thanks to a vegetation management project spearheaded by the Ramona West End Fire Safe Council.
Looking at a locale that has not burned in more than 40 years, the council decided that something needed to be done to reduce the fire danger. Working through the California Fire Safe Council, the West End group received a $150,000 U.S. Forest Service grant to clear brush and thin vegetation.
The project has centered on the interior roads between Kay Dee Lane and Rockhouse Road. All are narrow and some are not paved.
“The top priority was to address access roads to enable emergency vehicles to go into the area and to allow residents to get out safely,” said Kristi Mansolf, chair of the Ramona West End Fire Safe Council.
In addition to clearing 10 feet next to the roads, workers were allowed to thin vegetation for an additional 30 feet on both sides of a road.
Mansolf said this extra clearance could be critical “if 100-foot flames are coming and you’re trying to drive out.” Another goal was to make the roads more uniform so it would be easier for firefighters to get their vehicles into an area.
This vegetation management program is a first for Ramona and is a pilot project that Mansolf hopes will be used as a model for other areas.
The council’s approach has received high praise from CalFire officials, who have worked hand in hand with the council to evaluate what needed to be done where and to determine which roads should receive the highest priority.
“The fire safe council got all the people together and was the conduit that made it happen,” said CalFire Capt. David Janssen, a forester who was an adviser on the project. “They had a community meeting to explain the process so everyone was on board right away,”
The bulk of the work was done between December 2008 and May 2009 by a contractor and certified arborist, Artistic Tree Care of Escondido. The grant paid 90 percent of the cost, with affected homeowners required to make a 10 percent contribution, either with funds or by doing 10 percent of the work.
More than 30 homeowners participated and another six opted out, but most, if not all, of those did their own work, “which was the main thing,” Mansolf said. And several other properties did not need any attention.
“Homeowners had a say-so in the design of the work to be done on their property,” Mansolf said. “And we worked with them to achieve a more uniform and collective approach to vegetation management for this area. Placement and maintenance were emphasized.”
Most of the clearing was done with hand tools, like chainsaws, saws and hand pruners. Brush piles were put in chippers and the debris was sprayed back onto the treated area. Trees were limbed up and dead wood was removed, but roots were not disturbed.
Work in some areas was very difficult because of steep terrain, extremely dense vegetation and the presence of poison oak.
“One couple was working on a big clump of poison oak and they both ended up in the hospital,” Mansolf said. “Our contractor got rid of it, and saved them a lot of money, too. It would have cost them a lot more than their 10 percent, maybe as much as $10,000.”
With the bulk of the work completed, and inspected by CalFire, the council is using the remaining $20,000 of grant funds to thin brush below houses that are at the top of a steep canyon. The Sal Hernandez Tree Service of Ramona is doing the work, and the goal is to tie these cleaned areas into a fuel break that CalFire is working on.
That fuel break was originally intended to be phase two of the council’s plan, but when the council’s board found out how expensive it was going be to clean a 100-foot swath in such tough topography, that project was turned over to CalFire.
Homeowners who participated in the road clearings will be receiving a “maintenance pack” from the council, which will include before and after photos of the areas that were cleaned. And they were asked if they would maintain the work. Ninety percent said they would.
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