Turnout for the meeting went way beyond anyone’s expectations. We clearly have an awesome neighborhood! We were overwhelmed by the number of people who turned out. The only regret was that not everyone could fit into the space or find a place to sit.
We are looking for a venue that will hold more people for the May 14 meeting. Cost is a factor because the Fire Safe Council is all-volunteer and nonprofit. We’ve been fortunate to receive a couple of donations along with some seed money from the umbrella El Dorado County Fire Safe Council, which is also all volunteer and non-profit…not government at all even though the name sounds like it.
However, we used pretty much all of the donations and seed money on the website, meeting handouts, banners, etc. (Wasn’t the banner on the truck great?! Thanks to one of our neighbors for thinking of it and using his truck as a moving billboard.) Your ideas about how to find a venue that will accommodate more people and that does not cost an arm and a leg are very welcome and could make the difference in where we meet.
Other fire safe councils told us to expect only 50 people. We thought we might get 100 but then we had rain. (Wasn’t that downpour crazy?) Well, the sun came back out and around 200 people came to the meeting!!! Pleasant Oak Baptist Church, which had so graciously opened their fellowship hall for the meeting, was full to the brim, and then some. Their parking lot was filled to overflowing. The old Poverty Flat parking lot across the street was also completely full.
The fellowship hall has only 60 or so permanent chairs. The pastor and helpers at the church brought in extra chairs. Even so, many people had to stand around the sides of the room, in a hallway at the back and in the kitchen that opens onto the room. (Fortunately, we were still able to meet fire department requirements.) Some people couldn’t get in at all. Craziness! But a real testimony to how much we all care about fire safety.
One neighbor asked about help for seniors. I was happy to be able to say, “Check the link on our new website!” Another neighbor said, “You should put this on YouTube and link it from the website.” That’s exactly what we hope to do for future meetings. We have to work out the details though, like permissions from the speakers. We also have to have the right equipment. I videotaped a lot on my cell phone but ran out of memory. Videotaping meetings is an area where it would be great to have help!
160 people turned in questionnaires asking what fire safety issues they were interested in. Lots of you indicated that you wanted to help. I’m blown away. We’re looking forward to having more hands to help and boots on the ground. You are all awesome. Just a quick glance and talking to a few people tells me that evacuation and alerts are among the big concerns. Selfishly, I hope some of you will want to help with the website and communication too. There’s lots of opportunity there!
The speakers were all excellent. The Fire Safe Council chairperson, Linda Azevedo, explained what the council was and what we hoped to do. Linda emphasized that the council is all volunteer, grassroots, and local. The council’s mission includes education (like this meeting and the website), assessing the area, identifying projects that would increase fire safety, applying for and receiving grants (we just sent in our first grant application!), and organizing community efforts.
In 2017, fire safe councils in our county were awarded nearly $800,000. That increased to over $2 million in 2018 and this year $7 million in grant funding is pending approval. The grants are used for projects such as road clearing, shaded fuel breaks which slow down wildfire, free chipping programs, and senior/veteran fire safety support. Fire councils in Grizzly Flat completed a hazardous tree removal project, and, in Sierra Springs, recently completed fuel reduction of all their major evacuation routes. The fire safe council in Coloma-Lotus also cleared roadside and treated acreage. We want to learn how to direct some of these grants our way and improve fire safety for all of us here in the greater Oak Hill Area.
El Dorado Fire Protection District Chief Ogan gave an excellent and interesting talk. We were all impressed with his knowledge of the issues, especially considering the short time he’s been in his position. He is the interim chief. Interim is way too short but apparently State law limits his tenure to one year. He is so qualified and so clearly supportive of community efforts.
Some of the news that was not good was that we have many issues similar to those in the Paradise area in which 86 people lost their lives. We have similar wind, terrain, and one-way in, one-way out issues. However, there is some good news. (We need it!)
We are in a great position for mutual aid geographically. He gave the Sand Fire as an example. When the first responders got there, they requested 10 strike teams (that’s 50 engines). Six strike teams came out of Sacramento County. They were on scene and working in 45 minutes. Four of them came out of San Joaquin County. They were on scene and working in one hour. We are also in a great spot for air support. Even though the Sand Fire was devastating to the 20 people who lost their homes, the picture would have been much worse if we’d had to wait 3-4 hours for assistance.
One question that came from the audience was about whether firefighters would use water from big tanks, etc., on private property. Chief Ogan said that they would use any and all water they could access, including from tanks, swimming pools, etc. A good issue to look into would be the best ways to make the water accessible and how to notify the firefighters that the water was there.
Another good point that Chief Ogan made (there were many) was that it helps firefighters and emergency medical personnel if residents have the right address signs. They should be metal, reflective, visible from both sides, and mounted at eye-height on metal poles. 6” high numbers are recommended. The Oak Hill Area Fire Safe Council plans to make address signs available on the website as both a fundraiser and something that will make a difference to the safety of each one of us. You’ll hear more about this as soon as we get it together.
A big message from Chief Ogan was the importance of evacuating early. If we are alerted to a fire through official means, of course we should evacuate as soon as we can. In addition, Chief Ogan told us that if we smell smoke or even just feel something is not right, we should get out. We can’t rely on getting official alerts. It’s important to get out early not only for our own safety but for the safety of others. Firefighters can’t fight a fire if they are focused on rescuing people. Waiting to leave also puts the firefighters themselves in jeopardy.
Chief Ogan told us the district is facing a huge funding issue. This affects every one of us. Did you know there are only six engines serving the entire district? The district is officially 281 square miles. However, it also serves almost the entire El Dorado National Forest for medical aid, rescues, and assisting with wildfire response. That makes the actual service area approximately 600 square miles. That is huge! How can six engines adequately serve that large an area? Two of the engines are staffed with three firefighters each. The remaining four have only two firefighters on them. Is this enough? It sure doesn’t seem like it.
We’ve felt the impact of budget cuts up close and personal with the closing of the Pleasant Valley Road Fire Station. This affected many of our homeowner’s insurance rates and even caused some people not to be able to get insurance at all. This issue is one the fire safe council can explore. If you are interested in exploring this issue and didn’t indicate your interest on the questionnaire handed out at the meeting, shoot an email to us at info@OakHillFireSafe.org.
Mark and Robin Stanley (retired CDF Fire Protection and UC Master Gardener) talked about how to create defensible space that looks good. Mark emphasized why defensible space is important and what it means to firefighters. Some of his slides clearly showed why firefighters can’t even try to save homes that don’t have good access or defensible space. The fire trucks, with mirrors, are 10’ wide. They need that 10’ plus some just to get down our roads. Considering the tight curves of many of our roads, they need at least 15’ of clearance. They also need 15’ vertical clearance. Those are minimums. More is better. Do your roads have that much space? Can your homes be seen clearly from the road? Is your driveway accessible? Do you have a propane tank between where the fire trucks would come in and your house? (Mark told us that, when propane tank valves open up due to heat, they can shoot a stream of flame 150’ high.)
Firefighters can’t afford to put their engines and themselves out of commission when there are other homes that have a chance of being saved.
Robin’s love of plants and landscaping came across clearly. She suggested we start with just three things that help create defensible space. You’ll find some diagrams and information online on the website. The idea is to get started…to break down the task into manageable pieces rather than think of the whole project. Together, Mark and Robin defused some of the anxiety people feel about creating defensible space (and alleviated concerns that they would be forced to denude the landscape) and had great suggestions for getting started. Creating defensible space and creating access for fire trucks are big jobs but essential. What a great neighborhood we have. So many people stepped up to form the fire safe council and so many more of you have expressed interest in either learning more or helping with the issues we face. Thank you!