A firefighter gets ready to put out the fire atop the roof during a structure fire of Enterprise Road in March.
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With funding levels at all-time lows engaging the community to prevent fires from starting in the first place is more important than ever, area fire officials say.

Two dozen representatives from Santa Cruz, San Mateo, Santa Clara, San Mateo and San Benito counties gathered at the Zayante Fire House Friday, spending several hours discussing how falling funding levels are affecting already stretched resources, and ways to work around problems.

The gathering marked the second regional Fire Safe Council meeting of the year. It’s a branch of the statewide, nonprofit organization founded in 1993 with the goal of keeping communities, and the environment, safe from wildfires. It now has about 240 member organizations, three of them in Soquel, Bonny Doon and South Skyline. The regional council plans to meet twice each year to share information and brainstorm ways to circumvent their common challenges.

For example, the councils previously received grants from such agencies as the state Fish and Game and parks departments. But the U.S. Forest Service is now their sole source of revenue, said Dan Lang, a senior grant manager with the California Fire Safe Council. Applications for the latest grant cycle were due last month, and officials will decide in November which of the 140 projects to fund with a mere $4.5 million pot. Most grants total $100,000, said Central Fire Chief Jeff Maxwell. At that level, only about one-third of those projects will be funded.

Fire officials have taken a proactive rather than reactive approach to wildland fires since the mid-1990s, providing information to residents on what they can do to keep their homes safe, and how to prevent fires. Among the most common grant-funded projects, Lang said, are wood-chipping services that make it easier for residents to clear debris from around their homes. Rebate programs for home-safety measures and free services for seniors and the disabled also are popular.

But even with those precautions in place, problems remain. Thousands of firefighters and hundreds of trucks are now out on the lines at fires in and around the state, meaning fewer resources in their home communities, Scotts Valley Fire Chief Dan Grebil said. Compounding the problem is that roughly 85 percent of Santa Cruz County is designated rural or semi-rural, and more and more people are moving to those areas. When a wildfire erupts, that means more structures to burn, and potentially more lives lost.

“Wildfires are a community problem, and prevention and mitigation are required, and it truly is a team effort” that must involve residents, he said.

Detailed knowledge of the terrain, including maps pinpointing the locations of an area’s water tanks, swimming pools, structures and escape routes, is also important. Even, he added, for people who live out in those remote areas “and don’t want the government to find them.”

 

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.

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