With the visible scars of last year’s Center Fire still evident, residents of Big Pine took the first step toward forming a Fire Safe Council last Thursday night.
Representatives from CalFire, the Bureau of Land Management and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power held meetings last week to discuss the advantages of establishing the community-driven councils in both Independence and Big Pine.
All three agencies can provide support to community efforts. Individual Fire Safe Councils act as formal entities developing specific projects to protect those communities from wildland fires, explained Inyo County Supervisor Marty Fortney who opened the Big Pine meeting.
“Councils come up with projects important to each community,” explained Debra Hein, BLM’s fire management specialist. “The projects can be as simple as improving the visibility of home addresses, education or improving access, or as large as fuel reduction.”
With the memory of the March 2011 Center Fire that destroyed 19 homes in Big Pine and the John Fire just south of the community last summer still fresh in everyone’s mind, volunteers didn’t have to be coaxed too long to step forward.
“When we moved here six years ago,” said Kent Schlick, “we were told wildfires weren’t an issue. Since then, we’ve had to evacuate two-and-a-half times. I’ll volunteer.”
“Fire Safe Councils can bring partners together,” explained Dale Schmidt, DPW’s range management specialist. Lone Pine’s Fire Safe Council was able to secure a $300,000 federal Rural Development grant for fuel reduction, tying in with the local fire district to manage the grant.
CalFire Battalion Chief Paul Melendrez stressed the concept of defensible space around each residence. “You have to start with your own home,” he said, noting that embers were driven so far in advance of the Center Fire that a community fire break would have been ineffective.
The next meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 5 at Big Pine Town Hall on Dewey Street.