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County Agrees to Contract With Cal Fire Ahead of Season

The contract, which last for three years, will cost $38.8 million and provide fire protection and emergency medical services for a third of the county and at least 57,000 residents.

A firefighter battling a blaze.
(TNS) - Placer County approved a landmark contract with Cal Fire on Tuesday ahead of a what appears to be a particularly dangerous year for wildfire.

The contract, which last for three years, will cost $38.8 million and provide fire protection and emergency medical services for a third of the county and at least 57,000 residents.

Cal Fire has provided fire services to the county for decades, but Tuesday's contract marks the first time the county has entered into a lengthy deal with the state's fire service.

The price tag will cover the cost of 61 full-time and 33 volunteer firefighters, as well as management of fire services for the city of Colfax. The contract includes the conversion of five firefighter positions to paramedic positions for the county's rural areas.

Last year, Placer County Fire Department received an average of 31 calls per day, responding to more than 11,000 calls throughout the year. The county's river canyons also posed a challenge to fire personnel in 2020, according to a presentation by Unit Chief Brian Estes, resulting in 274 in swiftwater and technical rescues.

"I think I'd be remiss in saying, anywhere you live in Placer County the threat from emerging wildfires and large damaging wildfires is probably always our No. 1 threat in the county," he said.

In 2020, Placer County firefighters responded to more than 700 wildland fires, the majority of which were extinguished before the fire reached 10 acres. But, Estes said, it's not just the fires in the densely wooded areas of the county that are the problem.

As an example, Estes said personnel responded to a fire near Roseville this week that was extinguished after burning 40 acres. Firefighters are seeing more and more instances of fires moving out of the grasses in the valley into suburban neighborhoods, he said.

The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to approve the contract, which will cost $12 million for 2021, and increase by 5% for the following two years.

"Our contract with Cal Fire is an extraordinary benefit to our citizens," Supervisor Cindy Gustafson said.

The contract comes as a drought settles over the state, making fire conditions particularly dangerous. With most of the state in "extreme" drought conditions, it means there is a surplus of dry vegetation that can fuel a fire if sparked.

According to a map released by Cal Fire, a significant number of Placer County homes in the foothills and mountainous terrain east of Auburn are at high to very high risk for fire.

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