Nevada County OES and Fire Safe Council Seek 550 Applications for Free Clearance of Defensible Space – YubaNet

Nevada County has millions in federal grants to hire work teams to create defensible space in hundreds of homes, all at no cost to homeowners or renters.

The county just needs people to apply.

“Work on 27 properties has been completed, 35 lots are awaiting the start of work, another 226 are in the application and review stages, and we have room for an additional 550 people to apply,” the Nevada County analyst said Office of Emergency Services (OES). Alex Keeble-Toll.

“We accompany you through the entire application process. We’ll even come to your home to help you complete and submit the application,” said Jamie Jones, executive director of the Fire Safe Council of Nevada County (FSC), the county’s partner in the defense space project.

FEMA grants total $5,237,297. The combined 25 percent match of the county and Fire Safe Council is $1,309,324, bringing the total project value to $6,546,621.

This money pays for labor and equipment needed to create defensible space on properties owned or rented by owners or tenants who meet at least one of three criteria: 65 years of age or older, disabled, and/or low income.

Application deadline is February 28th.


Total project: $6,546,621

Properties to be treated: 837

Application deadline: February 28, 2023

Start of work: September 2022

Estimated completion: June 2025


Kate Benton, Public Relations Program Coordinator

Telephone: 530-272-1122

Story of an owner:

Wren Simmonds is thrilled with the clearing work that has been completed at her Rough & Ready home.

Rough and Ready’s Wren Simonds is pleased with the clearing work on the hillside behind her home that was recently completed by a Fire Safe Council work team.

“I’m not disabled, but some of the work was beyond my capacity,” said Simmonds, who is elderly, has vision problems and is on a steady income. “There were trees that were covered in vines that had to be limbed.”

Simmonds remembers when the work crew arrived.

“They got out of their trucks, worked like crazy and came back the next day to do it all over again,” says Simmonds, who appreciated the workers’ efforts so much that she made Cornish pasties for them. “They were very polite and helpful and didn’t charge me anything.”

Much of Simmond’s five-acre lot, where she herds goats and chickens, is on a relatively steep slope. Now that the hillside behind her house is cleared, Simmonds says she can keep up with the ongoing task of removing pine needles.

“I can do that myself.”

This nearly two-acre lot in Rough & Ready was choked by ladder fuel before homeowner Wren Simmonds applied for and received free land clearance assistance from the Nevada County Office of Emergency Services and the Fire Safe Council.

How it works

The Fire Safe Council conducts public relations, recruits applicants, pre-qualifies them and finally provides field service teams to do the job.

The county’s Office of Emergency Services administers grants, conducts pre- and post-property inspections, and submits applications to FEMA for review.

“Because these funds are federal, it is mandatory to complete an environmental and heritage compliance review before work begins,” Keeble-Toll said. “This may take up to a year as FEMA searches for archaeological, historical, mining, Native American sites, or anything that may prevent work.”

None of the Nevada County applicants were rejected by FEMA because anything that might preclude the job would likely have been discovered building homes.

Both FSC and OES are in a hiring phase as the program gains momentum.

“We have 37 employees,” Jones said, “and we plan to hire two more crews of 20.”

The district has two inspectors dedicated to the program and is hiring two more.

“Both FSC and OES have increased their efforts to put our pieces of the puzzle together as quickly as possible, but we respect the duty of care and the time it takes for FEMA to complete their work,” said Keeble-Toll. “Deadlines can be frustratingly long, but we hope property owners can be patient.”

The program was recently opened up to both renters and property owners.

“In addition to property owners, we can also provide services to qualified renters with owner licenses,” Jones said. “This allows us to work with RV sites. We are currently reviewing and reaching out to the list of applicants who may be new candidates. We still have room to serve more people.”

Qualifying homes are assigned treatment plans with up to 26 tasks to complete. The goal, if the property lines, terrain, and other factors permit, is to create 100 feet of defense space around the house.

“Each package needs something different, a lot of it manual labor,” Jones said. “A typical project involves removing fuel from the ladder, removing blackberries, limbing trees and then hauling away or chopping. We have ordered a masticator which should arrive in late spring.”

scope of the project

With hundreds of thousands of properties in Nevada County’s unincorporated and incorporated lands, the 837 parcels that must be treated before the end of the program are a small percentage – but they represent a significant opportunity.

“We’re doing this from the ground up and supporting the management of the private property of the most vulnerable,” Keeble-Toll said. “These are the people who have the least resources to do this type of work. They may also have the most to lose in a wildfire because they have the fewest resources to rebuild.”

United Way of Nevada County awarded the Office of Emergency Services and the Fire Safe Council a $24,000 private land clearance partnership, which allows up to $72,000 of FEMA funding to be used to hire highly skilled tree removal contractors.

The United Way of Nevada County awarded the program a $24,000 Match Grant, which allows up to $72,000 of FEMA funds to be used to hire highly skilled tree removal contractors. The removal of hazard trees is outside the remit of the FSC work teams.

“Tree dieback from bark beetles combined with drought and storms is a big problem,” says Keeble-Toll. “We take every opportunity to help people solve this problem.”

Meanwhile, packages scattered across the county are being brought into line with the county’s defensible space standards one by one.

“I get asked, ‘Wouldn’t it be wiser to do all the houses in a certain area?’ a neighborhood or community,” Keeble-Toll said. “It doesn’t work from an equity perspective. The intent is to provide services to the people who are least able to do it themselves.”

She says the current project — the “Private Property Scale” — is the focal point of a larger picture with multiple layers, or “scales.”

At the “community scale,” strategies include improving entry and exit routes to allow residents to escape and first responders to get to where they need to be. At the “landscape scale,” Keeble-Toll envisions remediation projects that are helping to make 800 to 1,000 acres of land fireproof — or at least fire-resistant.

“Defensible space work for individual homes plays into the holistic vision of what we need to do at every level,” she said. “The partnership makes this possible – between the county and the Fire Safe Council – and the residents who take advantage of this opportunity.”

“Any resident who thinks they qualify because of their age, disability or income should contact us immediately,” Jones added.

Lorraine Jewett is a freelance writer based in Nevada County who can be reached at [email protected]. This is part of a series of articles commissioned by Nevada County examining the county’s services.