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Weeding out fire

$3,500 already raised by neighbors
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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Neighbors in Aeolia Heights are hoping to protect the area’s more than 100-year-old history by dousing out fire risk. The Project Canyon Safe effort, which started in Robie Point in May, is continuing throughout neighborhoods along the American River Canyon. Its goal is to create a shaded fuel break to prevent a widespread fire from overtaking the canyon, and to make the area more accessible for firefighters if a fire should start. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation owns the American River Canyon land, and a recent agreement between the Auburn Fire Department and the Bureau allows resident volunteers to conduct fuel break projects in the canyon. A team of 10-15 volunteers is scheduled to gather at 6:45 a.m. Saturday at the end of Thirza Court in the Aeolia Heights neighborhood, and the project will continue until about 10 a.m. Promoting safety in this part of the canyon is important not only for neighbors in the area, but other residents in the city as well, said Susan Boyme, Aeolia Heights resident. “It’s important not just for Aeolia Heights, but for Auburn as a community,” Boyme said. “Aeolia Heights borders not just a neighborhood of people who need protection, but we border Downtown Auburn.” Boyme said Auburn residents have multiple reasons for wanting to protect the area. “It’s two-fold,” she said. “I think residents of Auburn are here because we embrace the natural surroundings, but we also embrace our history and honor it.” Boyme said while the Aeolia Heights area offers history through olive trees that were planted in the 1870s, it also includes highly-flammable brush, manzanita bushes and Scotch broom shrub, so a fuel break project is necessary. “Honestly, the last few years there has been a fear that we have all had, watching the canyon burn from a distance,” Boyme said. According to Councilman Kevin Hanley, chairman of the Greater Auburn Area Fire Safe Council, neighbors have already raised $3,500 in private donations. Money raised will go toward future chipping services provided by the California Conservation Corps and continued maintenance of the fuel break. Hanley said the project would mostly include clearing brush and low branches, giving the Conservation Corps room to have more drastic work done on future workdays. The entire project encompasses about 15 acres from Thirza Court to Grass Valley Highway, and the work party’s goal is to clear 1-2 acres Saturday. Hanley said any Auburn residents interested in volunteering could e-mail him for more information. Aeolia Heights resident Kathy Sands said when she moved to the neighborhood, residents didn’t consider fire risk, and now they are working to clear the land as much as they can. “When I moved here 30 years ago we didn’t even think about a bad fire in the canyon,” Sands said. “Individually and personally we have done a lot. I have done a lot of my own clearing with my own money, because you do what you have to do.” Resident Cathy Mikles said residents are hoping to get some business sponsorships for the project, but they know they can’t rely on the government to protect them. “We have to protect our homes and the community,” Mikles said. “It’s essential we take action ourselves, because the government funding has dried out for this.” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com ----------------------------------------------------- Aeolia Heights Project Canyon Safe What: A continuing effort to create a shaded fuel break in the American River Canyon When: 6:45 a.m. Saturday Where: Volunteers meet at the end of Thirza Court For information: E-mail Kevin Hanley, hanleykh@jps.net To donate: Make checks payable to the Auburn Chamber of Commerce Foundation and send to 601 Lincoln Way, Auburn, CA, 95603. Note “Project Canyon Safe” in memo line. ---------------------------------------------------- History of Aeolia Heights Frederick Birdsall was the owner of Bear River Ditch, a company that brought water to mining camps and eventually supplied Auburn’s domestic water. In 1877 Birdsall bought 70 acres of land on the hillside east of town and planted thousand’s of olive trees. He and his wife, Esther Stratton named the estate Aeolia Heights. Birdsall constructed an olive oil processing plant after his trees began producing olives. The estate specialized in olives that yielded high amounts of oil. The company Birdsall Olive Company was born. Birdsall’s son, Ernest, took over management of the company in 1900. In 1907 Ernest Birdsall was elected to the state Assembly, and, two years later, became a state senator. He served for eight years. Wes Haswell, Ernest Birdsall’s son-in-law, took over management of the company until 1972. The Birdsall Olive Company processing plant is now a private residence, but the history of Aeolia Heights lives on in the remaining more than 100-year-old olive trees that still stand. ~Historical information courtesy of Janis Dice from a 2005 edition of Gold Country Homes