Santa Cruz, Calif., Residents Urged to Be ‘Firewise’

The seed of an idea to be part of a neighborhood better prepared for wildfires was planted by a longtime Paradise resident in late 2017. Her father was displaced after that city’s devastating Camp Fire in November.

by Jessica A. York, Santa Cruz Sentinel, Calif. / August 8, 2019

(TNS) — After five years of drought, Santa Cruzans became familiar with ways to make their lawns “water wise.”

Now, city public safety officials are hoping to make residents “firewise,” as well.

Santa Cruz Fire Department officials on Wednesday recognized volunteers from the Prospect Heights neighborhood for their efforts to earn Santa Cruz County’s first National Fire Protection Association certification for a Firewise USA program participant.

The seed of an idea to be part of a neighborhood better prepared for a wildland fire-related disaster was planted by Lora Lee Martin in late 2017. The 21-year Prospect Heights resident grew up in Paradise, and her father was later displaced after that city’s devastating Camp Fire in November.

“I’m from Paradise, California, so fire was constantly on our brain. After the Santa Rosa fire, I pigeonholed (City Councilwoman) Cynthia Mathews,” Martin said outside the downtown Santa Cruz fire station. “Sort of the overall goal, besides being prepared, is just overall awareness, because if you don’t know this is going to be a problem, you don’t know to do this stuff.”

Responding to Martin’s inquiries, fire officials helped convene a first neighborhood meeting in October 2017 at DeLaveaga Elementary School, drawing about 20 attendees. Later, group organizers worked with the city to bring in and fill three large dumpsters of cleared brush, yard cleanings and more, and helped acquire a discount for professional gutter cleaning work — both fire preventive practices. Two other neighborhoods, near Western Drive and Highland Avenue, also have launched early efforts to be certified as a Firewise group, working with Prospect Heights neighbors and Fire Division Chief Rob Oatey. At the end of the month, the Fire Department will host a community meeting to discuss preparedness measures for everything from fires and earthquakes to floods and power outages.

“What it does is it gives industry best practices for what you can do in your backyard to make your house and your yard and your community safer from the impacts of a wildland incident,” Santa Cruz Fire Chief Jason Hajduk said after handing over a new Firewise street sign for display in Prospect Heights. “It’s a lot of things, but it’s a framework that has readily accessible tools in a way that people can look at and go, ‘Oh, that’s what I do.’ It’s basically best-management practices for the individual and then for the community, as a whole.”

Several members of the Prospect Heights Firewise group have gone on to receive training to serve as “sponsors,” volunteers asked to be on hand to observe when inmates from the Ben Lomond Conservation Camp who spend their off-seasons contracted out for vegetation management work in neighborhoods.

Dave Dwyer, who has lived in Prospect Heights for the past 25 years, said he had served as a volunteer sponsor some 10 times, each about five- to six-hour shifts.

“I sensed that there was a need for somebody to represent the neighborhood, to represent the people who were concerned about the fires and prevention and I thought this was my way,” Dwyer said. “I’ve got time, I’ve got energy, I like being up in the hills and hillsides. It was just what I felt I needed to do.”

Group member Abby Young, who also is involved with the area’s Community Emergency Response Team, has been tasked with keeping the Firewise certification effort moving forward, reaching out to other neighborhoods who might benefit from the same and generally spreading the word about the effort.

“Right now, our equivalent in volunteer hours is valued at $8,000-plus dollars,” Young said of the Firewise group. “They value it at $25-an-hour, so the time that everyone puts in comes into an equivalent that could become an in-kind grant.”


©2019 the Santa Cruz Sentinel (Scotts Valley, Calif.)

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