Neighborhood Fire Safe Council makes strides

Members of the Lakehills Fire Safe Council stand next to the recently installed sign on Francisco Drive. There is an identical sign on Lakehills Drive. Left to right are: Francis McCarthy, John Hidahl, Jon Vegna, Steve Willis and Peggy Willis. Photo by Julie Samrick
Members of the Lakehills Fire Safe Council stand next to the recently installed sign on Francisco Drive. There is an identical sign on Lakehills Drive. Left to right are: Francis McCarthy, John Hidahl, Jon Vegna, Steve Willis and Peggy Willis. Photo by Julie Samrick

After “an enormous fire drill” in their Lakehills Estates neighborhood more than two years ago, and hearing from experts like El Dorado Hills Fire Chief Dave Roberts that their community is most at fire risk, residents formed the Lakehills Fire Safe Council in 2012. New signs installed earlier this summer mark the entrance to their neighborhood and also serve as a physical reminder of the volunteers’ hard work.

“The fire department recognized everything along Folsom Lake is a wild land interface with high risk conditions not every day, but a good part of the summer,” said vice chair John Hidahl. “It’s been an ongoing concern how we keep the areas along the lake maintained because it’s not easy to do.”

As reported by former Village Life reporter Mike Roberts in 2012, “Lakeside hiking and equestrian trails crisscross the park, which is a 300- to 600-foot wide strip of land between the lake and the houses. Hidden coves, easily accessed by boat, make ideal party spots. Residents report loud gatherings on weekends and worry that a shoreline campfire could provide the spark that turns their neighborhood into the next Oakland Hills or Angora.”

“If you have transient acts along the lake, like when people come through on their boats up to shore, it makes it high risk,” Hidahl said earlier this month. “Twelve years ago the fire department tried to work with parks and rec to do a clean up project to reduce the amount of fuels that are present along the boundaries in our community. It really got going when the fire department decided to run an evacuation drill and chose Lakehills to do it.”

The Lakehills Fire Safe Council was also formed because residents were concerned federal land managed by the Bureau of Reclamation hadn’t been trimmed for years.

An associate council of the El Dorado County Fire Safe Council, it’s one of nine community specific councils in the county and the only one in El Dorado Hills.

Being part of the national Fire Safe Council program allows communities to access resources fire departments, homeowners associations and individual residents may not, including grant funding, access to chippers and dumpsters, brush crews
 and potential permission to reduce fuel loads in state or federal lands.

Through education, partnerships and caring for one’s own property, including clearing lots for defensible space, member Steve Willis put it simply. “A Fire Safe Council wants to give fire department personnel the chance to save you.”

Since they formally formed the council in 2012, Reclamation has already cleared 16 acres of brush between the lake and the Lakehills neighborhood and the El Dorado County Department of Transportation has cleared brush that blocks road signs and street addresses.

“In these two years, we have managed to create positive and successful working relationships with many of the local, state and federal agencies whose cooperation is necessary to accomplish the task we have set for ourselves, making Lakehills aware, responsive and prepared to face the prospect of wildfire,” wrote Council President Francis McCarthy in the Lakehills Fire Safe Council’s June Community Bulletin. “Much has been said and done in this short time, but much more remains. Volunteer, contribute and make your neighbors aware of the measures to be taken to minimize the effect of the potential threat we all face. Fires, once they start, tend to take no prisoners. By counting on you and one another we hope to create the condition where we won’t leave any.”

The council has also paid to have a forester go house to house to check lots for defensible space.

Members go door-to-door and host community fire wise events. By taking surveys, they’ve identified at-risk neighbors, including the homebound and elderly.

Though Lakehills Estates consists of 278 homes along Guadalupe and Encina Drives between Brown’s Ravine and Lakehills Drive, in two years they’ve grown to include adjacent neighborhoods Southpointe and Lakeridge Oaks. They hope The Summit will join them as well.

“We started with Lakehills and are looking to expand to areas bordering Folsom Lake to the county line,” said Hidahl. “Perhaps we’ll change our name to Folsom Lake boundary fire safe council.”

“It makes it better for everyone to work together with one voice because you’re going to get more ears,” said Willis. “The fire department says the more community involvement and unity we get, the more fuel reduction and consistency we have. The best Fire Safe Council is when you all have a common, mutual threat. That pulls people together. We can’t be combined with Pollock Pines (or even other parts of El Dorado Hills) because we have an entirely different environment, which has an entirely different scenario.”

All are welcome to attend the Lakehills Fire Safe Council meetings the second Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. at Fire Station 85.

“Education is our main thing,” said recording secretary Peggy Willis. “There’s always an educational component to our meetings.” They’ve recently had speakers including first responders, oak tree experts and representative from EID.

Another accomplishment was being recently designated a Firewise community. “There are only 1,200 councils in the whole United States with that certification,” said Steve Willis.

Once they were told to post their Firewise designation, council members decided to couple it with neighborhood entrance signs on Lakehills and Francisco Drives. Spot On Signs in Diamond Springs installed the signs earlier this summer.

Based on the Chandler Burn Index, which uses the air temperature and relative humidity to calculate a numerical index between low and extreme for fire danger, Hidahl is creating a unique, local algorithm to post the most accurate daily fire risk on the signs.

The mission of California’s Fire Safe Councils is “to preserve and enhance California’s manmade and natural resources by providing leadership and support that mobilizes all Californians to protect their homes, communities and environment from wildfires.”

Since its formation in April 1993, the national council has “united its diverse membership to speak with one voice about fire safety. The council has distributed fire prevention education materials to industry leaders and their constituents, evaluated legislation pertaining to fire safety and empowered grassroots organizations to spearhead fire safety programs.”

For more information email [email protected].

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