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Free chipping reducing fire danger

The wood chips shot out at 125 mph and landed on the driveway of Don and Pat Relfe, who own a cabin at Spring Creek.

The Relfes didn’t care how fast the chips flew. What they wanted were the white firs that died in their yard — and the fire danger they created — to disappear.

“This is a wonderful project,” said Pat Relfe, of a wood chipping program just started at Lake Valley Fire Protection District. “There’s no way we could burn all that. They don’t have a place to safely burn all that.”



Defensible space is the issue. If a cabin or home is surrounded by standing dead trees, dry brush or even piles of dead limbs, firefighters won’t have a chance to defend the structure if a wildfire hits.

Lake Valley bought a $30,000 chipper with grant from the federal government as part of the National Fire Plan, an initiative created in 2001 to reduce the threat of fire in communities. The fire district began chipping on Aug. 1. It has promoted the service with banners and inserts in garbage bills.



“It’s been an overwhelming response,” said Lake Valley fire Chief Brian Schafer. “We’re very pleased. We should be able to reduce slash piles by 100 tons around homes this year.”

The Relfes are one of about 70 cabin owners in the Spring Creek tract who signed up to have Lake Valley run dead limbs and other slash through a chipper. People who stack piles of slash, less than 6-inches in width, can have firefighters chip it at no charge.

Schafer said his department has wanted to start a chipping program since about 1995, but it wasn’t until bills from last year’s wildfire season came in that the federal government started funding defensible space programs at communities like South Shore. Lake Valley got a $68,000 grant this year. If the program proves its worth, it should continue to receive funding for up to five years.

Lake Valley is about halfway through a list of 300 homes that need some chipping done. After the initial burst of requests, Schafer anticipates that the chipping crew can get to a home within 10 days of a request for service.

Homeowners within the El Dorado County portion of South Shore are eligible for the service. Slashed material must be left in uniform piles at the curb. They should not contain rocks, dirt, garbage or stumps. Lake Valley can leave a resident a pile of chips or shoot them from the road onto a property.

The Relfes had the chips sprayed on their dirt driveway. The chips can help protect against erosion by reducing runoff on driveways. They can also be used to help plants thrive.

“People are really starting to understand this is going to be around a while and starting to plan ahead,” said Anthony Carr, a Lake Valley engineer and a member of the chipping crew. “People are so fired up about this.”

The chipping crew consists of a fire engine and a pickup that tows the chipper. The grant covers the cost of staffing the engine. If a fire call goes out, the crew will drop what they’re doing and go work the fire, which increases Lake Valley’s attack strength by one engine.

— Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at gcrofton@tahoedailytribune.com


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