California fire fee launched

A controversial fire fee imposed by the state will be assessed on more than 15,000 homes in Marin County’s unincorporated areas — even though property owners there already pay for fire protection services.

The new fire fee for rural areas has caused protests in Marin and other California communities. KDRV.com reported that Cal Fire budget reductions in the last year and a half amounted to almost $80 million, and the new protection fee will help offset that loss. Revenue from the new fee is estimated at $84 million per year.

About 845,000 California property owners will receive notice of the fee; buildings are subject to the fee depending on location. The program covers only unincorporated areas of the state — about 31 million acres where fire protection is a state responsibility. Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, says this is a “highly flawed fee” that legislators had to agree to as part of a budget deal. Huffman said the fee discriminates against rural areas and punishes communities that tax themselves to provide fire protection. He doesn’t think the fee system will survive a legal challenge.

Cal Fire’s Daniel Berlant says the growing number of homes in the interface has increased the state’s costs for suppression. “Services like public safety are vital,” he told Southern California Public Radio. “This new fee will create a stable funding source for public safety and in these tough times we can’t afford not to put money toward fire prevention.”

But many homeowners see the fee as an illegal tax. “This goes on to basically pay the ongoing infrastructure for Cal Fire,” says Republican Senator George Runner with the Board of Equalization. He says the fee paid by a homeowner may not benefit that particular homeowner and is therefore a tax. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association called the fee an “illegal tax” and is expected to sue.

Marin County Fire Chief Jason Weber said the fee will be assessed on 18,000 parcels in Marin for $1.75 million but won’t provide direct benefits to the county. “We want to make sure our communities are protected here in Marin, and $1.75 million is a lot of money we could use locally for wildland fire prevention.” Tiburon Fire Protection District Chief Richard Pearce said his district opposes the tax. “In Marin in particular, it takes $1.75 million from the county and there is no direct benefit,” he said. “We’re already covering the area.”

According to the Silicon Valley Mercury News, Marin officials aren’t alone in objecting to the fee. Others who oppose the program include the California State Association of Counties, California Professional Firefighters, and the California Fire Chiefs Association.

The “State Responsibility Area Fire Prevention Benefit Fee” was signed into law last year. It requires homeowners in designated fire-prone areas to pay an annual fee of $150 for each habitable structure on a parcel. A $35 discount applies to properties that are already protected by an organized fire agency.

Salt Creek Fire temporarily closes I-5

A fire burning along Interstate 5 on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest has forced the evacuation of 100 homes. According to the Sacramento Bee, the fire north of Redding has burned 500 acres and is about 20 percent contained. Don Ferguson with the U.S. Forest Service said crews made progress overnight, but 20 more homes were added to the evacuation list.

The Salt Creek Fire started yesterday in the interstate median; it’s threatening about 20 commercial buildings and 100 other structures, and I-5 was closed for several hours. Thousands of northbound travelers were stuck in traffic in triple-digit heat on the interstate.

The fire’s burning between the O’Brien and Salt Creek exits; major KV power transmission lines are threatened. Resources on the fire include 46 engines, five dozers, six crews, three helicopters, and four airtankers. A Type 2 team will take over the fire this evening. The Redding Record Searchlight has a collection of photos online.

California timber company to pay $50 million for starting fire

Sierra Pacific, a timber company in California, has agreed to pay nearly $50 million and donate 22,500 acres of land to settle a federal government lawsuit over the Moonlight fire that burned about 65,000 acres in 2007, including 46,000 acres in the Plumas and Lassen National Forests in the northern part of the state.

U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner said the fire was caused by two dozer operators working on a red flag warning day.

Here is an excerpt from an article in the Washington Post:

Wagner’s office claimed employee negligence led to the growth of the fire. The person who was designated to watch for fires left the work area and drove 30 minutes to get a soda, and when he returned more than an hour later, there was a 100-foot wall of smoke, he said.

In addition, there was no access to fire suppression equipment at the site, Wagner said.

He estimated firefighting costs at $22.5 million.

The settlement includes a cash payment of $47 million from Sierra Pacific, a $7 million payment from private landowners and managers of the property where the fire started, and $1 million from the logging contractor.

Wagner estimated the value of the land at $67.5 million, but Sierra Pacific challenged that number, noting the U.S. Forest Service has not yet selected the land to be donated.

 

Thanks go out to Dick

USFS firefighters attack motorhome fire

Motorhome Fire, San Bernardino National Forest, Oak Glen,
Motorhome Fire, in Oak Glen, California; San Bernardino National Forest. Photo by James Peterson. (Click to enlarge)

Firefighters from the San Bernardino National Forest successfully kept a recent motorhome fire in Oak Glen, California from spreading into the national forest. Engine 34 was first on scene and was assisted by water tender 234 and engines 34 and 3569.

 

 

Thanks go out to Ken

California: dozer rolls over in Mendocino County

Dozer rolloverThe California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has released a preliminary accident report, a “Green Sheet”, for an accident on the Pond fire in the northern part of the state, June 14, 2012 in Mendocino County. The dozer was privately owned and there were no injuries to the operator.

Here is an excerpt from the report:

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SEQUENCE OF EVENTS

The fire occurred in an area of steep slopes, heavy fuels in a Wildland Urban Interface/Intermix setting. The fire was spotting in areas due to winds, steep slopes and receptive fuel beds.

As the dozer operator took action along the road, he observed the fire had extended below the road at a bend. The operator attempted to flank the fire and tie a dozer line in between the two road segments. The operator stated the visibility was very poor due to heavy smoke lying down in the area. The operator stated as he began to climb uphill to tie the line in, the slopes became very steep. Due to the steepness of the slope, the operator made three unsuccessful attempts to connect the line to the upper portion of the road.

On his third attempt to connect the line, the operator encountered a log in his path. As the operator attempted to move the log, his dozer slid perpendicular to the slope, reducing the dozer maneuverability. The operator then stated he attempted to make his way off the slope. As he moved down the slope, he encountered a soft spot of soil which caused him to slide a short distance downhill (approximately 10 feet). The operator stated the slide caused his downhill tracks to settle on a loose root wad mass. The operator said as he began to move the dozer the root wad mass acted like a fulcrum and flipped the dozer onto its side/top. The operator said he shut the dozer off and waited to ensure the dozer was done moving. Once he was confident it wasn’t moving any further, he released his seat belt and exited the dozer without any further incident.

INJURIES/DAMAGES

The equipment operator self extricated himself from the dozer and did not complain of any injuries.

The dozer has a bent grab handle on the right side of the cab. No other cosmetic damage was noted. The extent of the mechanical damage has yet to be determined.