Our View: Canyon fire break: Let’s get ’er done ourselves, Auburn

Our View
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Bob Snyder doesn’t want the horror of the 49 Fire to repeat itself along the rim of the American River canyon. Auburn city officials, businesses, landowners and the thousands of area residents who would be affected by a catastrophic wildfire crackling up the canyon walls should be concerned, too. Snyder has a valid idea — first expressed here on Jan. 1 — to create a volunteer effort to re-establish the American River Canyon Shaded Fuel Break, an 11-mile strip of land that runs through public and private properties along the winding canyon east of the city. The fuel break, cut some six years ago with city grants, must be maintained to provide the city with wildfire prevention. This week, Snyder took his concern and proposal to the Auburn City Council. Though understanding and empathetic to his urgency, city leaders said the issue was moving like molasses through the federal bureaucracy. Turning up the heat may accelerate the federal grant process to begin the clearing work, but that money likely won’t arrive in time for this coming fire season. If Auburn wants to get the job started, it’s going to have to roll up its sleeves. Literally. Snyder envisions a Project Auburn-like gathering of people, chain saws, weed-whackers and heavy equipment converging on sections of the fire break, using volunteerism, muscle and community care to provide improved fire prevention. “There isn’t enough money in the federal government to clear all the fire breaks,” said Snyder, a former Auburn mayor. “If the government can’t do it, we should do it ourselves.” Fortunately, that wish just might come true. City Councilman Kevin Hanley told Friday’s Power Breakfast attendees that the federal Bureau of Reclamation has approved public access to work on the fire break. Hanley said the city would “try and take advantage of this permission slip” to go onto federal land and remove hazardous trees and brush, starting near Robie Point. Hanley coined the fire break project as “Project Canyon Safe,” adding that meetings with city Fire Chief Mark D’Ambrogi would precede bringing the issue back to the council in a couple of weeks for approval. If area residents had known what could have happened when hot, dry, windy conditions met a spark last Aug. 30, they would have cleared the dry brush and scrub oak off Highway 49 near Bell Road. Instead, the arson-caused blaze spread rapidly and into subdivisions, destroying 63 homes and several businesses. Beautiful throughout the year but a tinderbox during the summer, the American River canyon is filled with fire fuel. With heavy hiking, running and cycling use, it’s not inconceivable to think an accidental fire could begin and move quickly up the slopes toward homes along the rim. Add an arsonist to the mix, and a disaster greater than the 49 Fire is a distinct possibility. The 49 Fire disrupted hundreds of lives, with rebuilding costs estimated at $40 million or more. Let’s not let that happen again, if we can prevent it. City officials should seek federal funds to keep the fire break functional. U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock should take a leadership role in providing federal help. This is a project of merit that McClintock should support. In the meantime, Auburn should be ready to roll up its sleeves for “Project Canyon Safe,” if given the chance. Another option would be a community fundraiser to pay for trained professionals. More than $100,000 was raised for 49 Fire victims in a short period of time. This community is known for helping friends and neighbors in times of need. In this case, it would be helping people from ever being in such need. Where do we sign up?