Grants help fund Atascadero fire prevention

Atascadero firefighters are using a combination of grant money from the U.S. Forest Service and city funding to reduce the threat of fire hazards.

The $13,000 federal Fuel Management Program grant pays for the collection of yard waste, for weed abatement, for conducting controlled burns and for help from California Conservation Corps and County/Cal Fire crews, according to Atascadero Fire Department Capt. Keith Aggson.

The city provides a 10 percent match to the grant through the value of services it provides, such as program administration, fire Capt. Bill White said.

A wood-chipping service that began Jan. 25 is included. It’s expected to end in April, officials said. The service has been provided in previous years, officials said.

Wood chipping is designed to remove the heavier fire-fuel materials, such as tree branches, cuttings and brush, which can generate more heat in a fire while it’s starting to spread.

“It doesn’t necessarily stop fires from happening,” White said. “But it helps us be able to get in there and stop the fire faster before it reaches those heavier heat levels.”

The chipping service works by sending two- to three-person crews to homes by appointment and using a $30,000 chipping machine to reduce tree branches and other debris to tiny scraps, officials said. The chips are then left for property owners to use as free landscaping material.

Reserve and seasonal firefighters work with the city’s street department staff on the jobs, Aggson said.

This year, 75 properties have used the program since it began on Jan. 25, and the city has 215 more appointments for it so far.

In 2009, 360 addresses used the chipping service, White said, producing 744 tons of material.

Wood and trimmings as large as 5 inches in diameter and up to 15 feet long can go through the machine, officials said.

“We ask folks to stack their trimmings in accessible areas so we can quickly handle the job,” Aggson said.

Crews are also able to observe potential fire hazards and advise citizens on how to remove them.