Cal Fire delays inspections Wants public to understand the benefits of the stat

Debra Moore
Staff Writer

Cal Fire had been scheduled to begin property inspections last week, but decided to wait until the public could better understand their purpose.

“We are not asking anyone to clear cut,” said Rich Martinez, of Cal Fire. “We just want to assess the house to ensure that it’s defensible in case of a fire.”

Ever since Cal Fire Capt. Shane Vargas announced that inspections would begin in Plumas County, the public has voiced some concerns.

“If there are 20 houses and we only have five trucks, we have to make choices. We are going to position ourselves at the homes that we think we can save.”

Shane Vargas
Cal Fire Captain

Objections covered topics ranging from private property rights to the amount of clearing that would be required.

The objections surprised Vargas, who said that inspections are regularly carried out in 55 of the state’s 58 counties. Cal Fire is not in San Francisco or Sutter counties, and this is the first year for Plumas.

“It seems new here because we haven’t done them,” he said.

Like Martinez, he said the goal is to make the properties more resistant to fire, not only for that homeowner, but for neighbors and firefighters as well.

Vargas gave the example of a fire approaching a residential area. “If there are 20 houses and we only have five trucks, we have to make choices. We are going to position ourselves at the homes that we think we can save,” he said.

But it’s not just about property. “It’s for the protection of firefighters too,” he said.

“It’s always life before property,” Martinez said.

“If there’s a lot of snags and debris, we aren’t going to be able to protect the structure,” Chris Robinson said.

Vargas and three other experienced firefighters recently completed training for the upcoming inspections.

Vargas said they intend to enforce the “spirit of the law, not the letter of the law.”

For example, one Cal Fire guideline requires a 10-foot horizontal spacing between trees. Vargas said that removing ground fuel eliminates the ladder effect that fuels a fire and trees would not need to be removed.

Adjustments are also made if a home is made with more fire-resistant materials.

As for private property rights, Vargas said that if a gate is locked or there is a “no trespassing” sign, inspectors will not enter the property.

“If you don’t want me to help you make your house more fire safe, I will move on,” he said.

Vargas singled out Jon Kennedy as an elected official who has been proactive in contacting him to get information to share with his constituents.

“He wants to better inform his citizens and asked that we start with his house when we begin work in his district,” Vargas said. Kennedy represents District 5, the Graeagle and East Quincy areas.

The parts of the county that will be considered for Cal Fire inspection include Canyon Dam south. Only residents who pay the Cal Fire annual fee are potential candidates.

“We have a list of people who have already contacted us and want the assessments,” Vargas said.

The Cal Fire personnel who will be visiting Plumas properties include Shane Vargas, his brother Mike Vargas, Chris Robinson and Rich Martinez. The men want to share their experience to let the public know that they are familiar with fire suppression and what homeowners can do to help the effort.


Shane Vargas

Vargas, 41, lives in Chico with his wife Sheila. They have four sons ranging in age from 7 to 20.

He has worked with Cal Fire since 1991 and before that belonged to the Susanville City Fire Department Explorer program.


Rich Martinez

Martinez, 42, resides in Reno with his wife, who is a registered nurse, and their 9-year-old son. He might be a familiar face for some because he referees Feather River College and local high school athletic events.

Before becoming a Cal Fire employee, he worked for the Forest Service for 20 years where he was a member of the Hotshots and was a smoke jumper. He also worked in fire prevention.


Chris Robinson

Robinson, 28, lives in Chico. He has a degree in fire science and fire technology from Butte College and was a volunteer firefighter in Nevada County before working for Cal Fire.


Mike Vargas

Vargas, 32, is Shane’s younger brother. He lives in Susanville and has a 6-year-old son.

He volunteers with the Susanville City Fire Department and worked for the Bureau of Land Management before becoming a firefighter with Cal Fire. He has also worked in fire prevention programs.

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