Three Rivers crafts first-ever wildfire protection plan

The Three Rivers Fire Safety Council has partnered with residents and government agencies to develop a plan for mitigating future wildfire damage

THREE RIVERS – Three Rivers has developed its first community wildfire protection plan in order to adapt and prepare for the realities of wildfires.

The recently-completed plan took a year to develop, and was overseen by the volunteer-run Three Rivers Fire Safety Council (3RFSC). The council partnered with federal, state and local agencies as well as Three Rivers residents and environmental consulting firm SWCA – the name of the firm – to write the plan as part of the California Climate Investments Fire Prevention Grants program. 

“This plan is going to help us move forward in a lot of proactive ways to help our community with the awareness and the knowledge that they need to be prepared,” said 3RFSC president Elizabeth LaMar. 

The 280-page document was crafted from field surveys, data collection and intensive research conducted by representatives from various government agencies along with the Tulare County Fire Department, Cal FIRE’s Tulare unit and local communities. 

“All of that leads to developing a priority list and a strategic plan,” LaMar said. “The community wildfire protection plan (CWPP) is really a strategic plan for wildfire prevention and educational activities that are focused on Three Rivers.”

“Basically, we’re starting with a homeowner, a landowner, and we’re working with them on defensible space and home hardening,” LaMar said. “We have licensed evaluators on our board, and we’re going to go out and talk with people and give them recommendations on how to create a safer environment for the home to possibly withstand a wildfire.”

Some public outreach outlined by the plan includes educational workshops for the community, signage around town, visits to Three Rivers Union School and tourist-focused education. 

“With over 300 vacation rentals in our community now, we’re finding that we really need to educate visitors about the fact that they’re in a high-intensity fire zone or high fire danger area, so there will be a lot of materials developed specifically for the vacation rentals as well,” LaMar said. Some of these materials include large refrigerator magnets with fire safety information inside vacation rentals. 

Another aspect of fire mitigation outlined by the CWPP is the management of plant materials like grasses, shrubs, dead leaves and fallen pine needles that act as fuel during wildfires. 

“Our plans for that are to bring in goat grazers,” LaMar said. “You have companies that will bring in herds of goats, and goats eat everything. Put them on a hillside, and you’re creating great vegetation clearance.”

Other ways to manage dried vegetation include prescribed burns, a practice utilized by tribal communities around what is now California for thousands of years as a successful fire mitigation method. 

“[Prescribed burns] are a touchy issue up there in the foothills, mostly because of the smoke and the concept that all fire is bad” LaMar said. “So it’s going to take a little bit of education. Bringing in some tribal communities to help us with that messaging would be great.”

Agencies like the Tulare County Fire Department, Cal FIRE’s Tulare unit, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks Service and the Bureau of Land Management also contributed to the development of Three Rivers’ CWPP. 

“There’s all these organizations working together to protect all communities, and Three Rivers really wanted to work from the inside out to meet those efforts,” LaMar said. “You know, we’re not going to prevent wildfires. It’s a new fact of life. Evacuations are going to happen, so how can we best be prepared for these new realities?”

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