Fire danger looms

Maintaining the fuel break proves slow going
By: Melody Stone Journal staff writer
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“Intolerable” and “highly objectionable” were the words Bob Snyder used to describe the process the city is taking to maintain the American River Canyon Shaded Fuel Break. The city is looking into ways to ensure the safety of residents along the canyon from the possibility of a catastrophic fire. However Snyder, a member of the Greater Auburn Fire Safe Council, said Auburn residents can’t rely on the government because action needs to be taken now. “They are endangering the community if they don’t do something,” Snyder said. At Monday’s City Council meeting Fire Chief Mark D’Ambrogi said he applied for grants to fund the maintenance of the fuel break. Snyder said his fear is the grants may come after fire season starts and it’s too dangerous to work in the forested area. “We’ve been waiting for a grant for seven years and if the grant doesn’t come in tomorrow it’s too late,” Snyder said Tuesday morning. “We need to take on these responsibilities ourselves so we won’t end up burned.” D’Ambrogi said the city won’t find out if it received the grants until June and probably won’t get the funds and be able to start work until a year from now. “This is a federal process. There are millions of dollars of grants and thousands of applicants,” D’Ambrogi said. “Submitting a grant right now (means) looking at this time next year to get some work done.” Through city grants the fuel break was completed about six years ago, but maintenance is needed every year. The 300-foot wide, 11-mile-long strip of land runs through private and federal land. The purpose of the fuel break is to clear out the underbrush and thin the trees to limit the spread of a large fire into the city of Auburn from the canyon. D’Ambrogi said he thinks the best way to tackle the problem is open communication and a good working relationship with the landowners, specifically the US Bureau of Reclamation. “What I’m trying to do is coordinate and solidify those relationships between the local government, the city of Auburn, and the federal government, the Bureau of Reclamation, so we can work towards a solution together,” D’Ambrogi said. “We’ve made significant progress with the bureau. They generally would like to do something but they don’t have the funding to do it.” Last month the city and the bureau signed a memorandum of understanding giving the city the ability to do some cleanup on federal land should any funding become available. Councilman Mike Holmes said he understands the residents’ concerns about the fuel break. “The idea, of course, is all that underbrush would be taken away and if a cataclysmic fire starts in the canyon it would be easier to stop it,” Holmes said. “Over the last few years we haven’t been able to maintain that. We’ve made some headway but there are people who live on the canyon rim who are seriously concerned about it.” Since the project’s completion, Snyder said maintenance hasn’t happened because of funding. He said he’s tired of hearing excuses and watching the underbrush behind his house slowly grow back, increasing the fire danger to him and his neighbors. “There isn’t enough money in the federal government to clear all the fuel breaks,” Snyder said. “If the government can’t do it we should do it ourselves.” Snyder put pressure on the City Council Monday night calling for an organized community effort to clean up the fuel break. “It has to be a coordinated effort,” Snyder said. “We want it organized and in accordance with every agency.” Holmes said he understands Snyder’s point and wants to take care of this. “I agree with Snyder — we need to have a plan A, the grant money,” Holmes said. “And running a parallel plan B in case the grant money doesn’t show up or it shows up too late.”