October/November, 2001

 

 

 

 

Guest Columnist

Andrea Tuttle, Director, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Partnerships for Community Fire Protection

Partnerships for Community Fire Protection

The California Department of Forestry and Fire
Protection (CDF) has a daunting mission. You
may know us best for our work protecting and
enhancing forest, range and watershed values on private
lands to provide social, economic, and environmental
benefits to rural and urban citizens. Today, I want to
focus on the other key component of our mission - fire
and emergency response - and how the state and
national fire plans assist us.
CDF protects 31 million acres of the state from fire and
provides a variety of emergency response services in 56
California counties. Our firefighters, crews, fire engines
and aircraft respond to more than 7,600 wildland fires,
and more than 270,000 other emergencies each year. The
heart of CDF's emergency response capability is 3,800
full-time fire, resource and administrative professionals,
supported by seasonal and volunteers firefighters,
Conservation Corps members, inmates and wards. To
succeed, we are guided by a two-part strategy of fire suppression
and fire prevention that depends on the good
work of our partners at the local, state and federal levels.
The focus of our suppression efforts is a commitment
to an aggressive initial attack policy. Though we continue
to have great success, we've learned from experience
that it can't be our sole strategy.

Emergency Response vs. Strategic Planning
Over the last four decades, continued growth and
development has outpaced the development of fire protection
and emergency response services. Statewide,
about 27 percent of the agricultural land and 11 percent of
the forestland had been converted to other uses by 2000.
Trends indicate that by 2040, 40 percent of the agricultural
land will be developed. In the Sierra region, the numbers
are even more alarming. By 2040, 40 percent of the agricultural
land and 30 percent of the forestland will be
developed. While the number of acres consumed by wildfire
in state responsibility areas has remained relatively
constant in each of the last four decades, damage from
wildfire has increased from less than $5 million in the
1960's to $70 million in the 1990's. In the same period,
structure loss has increased from approximately 100 to
over 600 buildings. These sobering facts led us to the conclusion
that we needed to expand our prevention efforts.
In 1995, CDF revised the California Fire Plan (CFP),
converting it from a document focused on the placement
of resources and staff, to California's comprehensive
blueprint for reducing the risk of wildfire. This forward-
thinking plan calls for an innovative, proactive approach that includes stakeholders in identifying both
the risks that citizens face and appropriate community based
solutions that can reduce the cost and damage
from wildfires, simultaneously improving public and
firefighter safety and contributing to ecosystem health.
The framework of the plan involves assessment of the
wildfire potential (fuels and weather), the level of service
(fire suppression success) and assets at risk (life, property,
air quality, water and watersheds, range, wildlife habitat,
timber, etc.). The aggregate of this data, presented as data
layers in a geographical information system (GIS) format,
assists CDF fire managers and community stakeholders in
identifying priority areas for pre-fire management projects.
Working together, we have completed successful prefire
management projects - all site-specific actions,
designed to reduce the frequency, severity and size of
wildfires. Projects involve fuel reduction in brush fields
and overstocked stands of timber, fire safe landscaping,
forest stewardship projects, prescribed burning and
defensible space for homes and communities.

Community Responsibility
The key to the success of the CFP is community
involvement. The CFP is implemented at the local level
to address local problems and identify and achieve local
solutions. This work is accomplished through locally
formed Fire Safe Councils that act as stakeholder forums
for wildland fire issues. Today, more than 100 community-
based Fire Safe Councils are actively involved in
developing community awareness, creating community
fire protection plans and implementing critical pre-fire
management projects throughout the state.

State/Federal Partnership
Responding to the devastating wildfires in the west
last year, the federal government created an initiative to
address the problem. Bankrolled last year at $2 billion,
the National Fire Plan focuses on expanding firefighting
forces and reducing hazardous fuels, primarily on federal
lands. However, the National Fire Plan recognized that
reducing impacts from wildfires won't succeed unless
adjacent communities develop their own fire protection
measures. Because of the existing institutional infrastructure
in California, provided in part by the California Fire
Alliance, Fire Safe Councils and the CFP, funding from
the National Fire Plan is making a difference immediately
by assisting local communities in taking responsibility
and action to protect their lives and property.

Building on a well-established partnership between
federal land agencies and CDF, National Fire Plan grants
are being offered to over 1200 communities statewide
that have been identified as being at risk. To date, more
than 40 pre-fire management projects have been funded.
With funding from the US Forest Service and Bureau of
Land Management, fuels will be reduced and local citizens
empowered to protect communities at risk. In a
complementary move, CDF worked with the Forest
Service to expand the level and intensity of fuel treatment
in the urban - wildland interface in its Sierra
Nevada Framework plan. Over the next ten years, as we
continue to expand our work with our many partners
and implement the National Fire Plan's Ten Year
Strategy, we are confident that collectively, we can
achieve great accomplishments in protecting resources
and communities while significantly reducing the loss
from wildfire in California.

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