Years of drought and other causes have brought Cambria’s forest to a crisis point, according to scientists and officials, and the people who live within the Monterey pines and coast live oaks need to know now how to prepare for what everybody fervently hopes won’t happen: Devastating wildfire and other potential disasters.
A coalition of emergency responders will share crucial information from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday, April 9, about how North Coast residents can prepare themselves now, along with how to plan for and accomplish evacuation, should that become necessary.
The meeting will be in the Veterans Memorial Building, 1000 Main St.
Worried Cambrians and officials have discussed the fire threat and related topics at a host of recent meetings, from regular and special meetings of the Cambria Community Services District and its Parks, Recreation and Open Space Commission to the Cambria Forest Committee, the county’s Fire Safe Council, county supervisors and several others.
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While a combination of factors has brought the forest to its current state — estimates are that 40 percent of the trees already are dead throughout the rare native stand, and up to 90 percent in some pockets — it’s the drought that is wreaking the lion’s share of the devastation.
Officials know that having the public well informed about wildfire risk, evacuation procedures and forest-care information is especially crucial as the state goes into a fourth year of drought and prepares for stringent new water-conservation requirements due May 5 from the State Water Resources Control Board, on orders from Gov. Jerry Brown, including a mandated 25 percent reduction in urban water use.
George Kostyrko, the water board’s public affairs director, said in a phone interview April 7 that it’s not known yet whether any additional reduction will be required of communities such as Cambria and Santa Cruz, whose citizens already have made such dramatic cuts in how much water ratepayers use.
Staff is preparing emergency regulations based on the governor’s executive order on mandatory conservation, new rules Kostyrko expects to have to the board for a vote May 5. “They’ll be out for public review” in the last week of April, he estimated.
In those regulations, “we want to make sure communities that have been water wise for many years are recognized” in a sliding scale that will require a lesser degree of additional conservation.
“Basically, you’ve been real leaders about how to make good judicious choices about using precious water. Other communities can learn from your examples.”
“Other communities need to stop watering outdoors,” he added.
The workshop will ask residents, “Are you prepared for an emergency? Have you done everything you can to protect yourself and your family?”
Descriptions of those tasks include how to:
- “Harden” a home, or make it less vulnerable to fire from the outside in.
- Create “defensible space,” or a swath of protection around a structure.
- Sign up cellphones and tablets for reverse 911 and other emergency-information and notification apps.
- Sign up for a debris-chipping program — the district plans to cosponsor several this year.
- Register for the Assisted Evacuation Database, designed to funnel help to those who are unable to evacuate on their own.
- Prepare for “ready, set, go,” a preplanned process to help people evacuate safely from a home. Another element is timing, and when it may be better to “shelter in place,” and people need to know how to do that as safely as possible.
- Protect Cambria’s Monterey pine forest while also protecting its inhabitants, structures and habitats. That includes removing dead and fallen trees and any dying ones that officials determine could be hazardous to homes, people or vehicle traffic, especially during an evacuation.
Officials also are working on how property owners can determine which trees truly are dead or not salvageable, and which others could be saved.
“We don’t want people taking out trees willy-nilly,” Amanda Rice, CCSD director, said at an April 7 meeting. “Dead trees are obvious. Dying ones, not so much.”
Fire Chief Mark Miller was to have confabbed with county and other emergency officials Wed-nesday to recommend changes to current permit requirements for removing dead or dying trees. But, because such work is so costly, he said he expects this year’s removal efforts will primarily target dead trees and wood of a certain size that’s already on the ground.
He said the two fire departments will be working together this year, with Cal Fire’s inspections of home sites due to start within the next couple of weeks. Cambria Fire’s inspections will come later in the spring.
He said Cal Fire and Cambria Fire will focus on the 100-foot zone around homes, and will work on three fronts: Public education, reducing the fuel for fire in the forest and the community, and continuing to seek grants.