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Tale of two tree experiences Program for seniors yields differing opinions

Greenhorn resident Kris Parton objected to the amount of tree harvesting and limbing that occurred while her property was being made more fire resilient. Photo by Debra Moore
Debra Moore
Staff Writer
Kris Parton walks her 1.5 acres in the Greenhorn subdivision and points out tree stumps, piles of wood chips, and meager stacks of firewood.

She isn’t happy and will tell anyone who will listen.

Parton signed up for the Defensible Space Assistance Program offered by the Plumas County Fire Safe Council for those who are 65 or older, or who are disabled.

She knew her property needed to be cleaned up, but was unprepared for the result.

“I used to see trees, now I see neighbors,” Parton said as she points across the street July 17. She took her county supervisor, Kevin Goss, on a tour of her property later that afternoon.

Parton had a litany of complaints:

—Too many trees were taken (60 by her count).

—Trees that remained were limbed too high, which left her home visible to the street and her neighbors.

—Wood chips were stacked in piles in excess of the 8 inches recommended by Cal Fire and obscured her decorative gardens.

—Poles and firewood were to be left for the property owner, but she feared that some had been removed from the property.

—Her property is now dustier and noisier than before the work was undertaken.

—The work was done while she was away from home.

“I thought they were going to do what a little old lady needed,” the 65-year-old Parton said.

Parton complained to Cal Fire, the Plumas County Fire Safe Council, the Board of Supervisors and Firestorm, the Chico-based firm that did the work.

All sent representatives to meet with her on her property.

The program

Mike McCourt, who oversees the program for the county’s fire safe council, is new to the job and didn’t see the property before it was treated, but has inspected it since the work was completed.

“I have over 30 years of firefighting experience and I think the house looks very defensible,” he said.

McCourt said about 40 properties have been completed this year, and this is the only individual that he is aware of who is dissatisfied.

“Everyone else is happy and compliments Firestorm on what a good job they’ve done,” he said and noted that Firestorm returned and did more work to satisfy some of her concerns.

Shane Vargas, a captain with Cal Fire, inspected the property and said that it met the requirements of Public Resources Code 4291, California’s defensible space law.

“It’s just a service that we provide to the senior disabled program,” Vargas said.

Cal Fire works with the fire safe council and not the homeowner directly, but he was familiar with the property.

“Her property before was really overgrown; it needed to be done,” he said.

Supervisor Kevin Goss also inspected the property, but hadn’t seen it before. He said that he would encourage any fire fuels work to be done with the homeowner present to avoid such situations.

The funds for the fuel reduction work come from a variety of sources, including the Forest Service via Title II as recommended by the Plumas County Resource Advisory Committee and the California Fire Safe Council Grant Clearing House.

Firestorm of Chico received the contract to conduct the hazardous fuels reduction for the senior/disabled program. The company, founded in 1995, specializes in a host of fire prevention activities including controlled burns, manual and mechanical thinning, fuels reduction and insurance work.

A different opinion

Lake Almanor Peninsula resident Sonja Burton couldn’t stop talking about the wonderful work that Firestorm did.

“These were the politest men we ever had on the property,” Burton said. Her mother, Irish Wilson, has lived on the peninsula for 55 years. The property became too much for the two women to keep clear so Wilson applied for the senior and disabled program.

Burton said that the crew worked on her property for several days and even “took down a 130-foot tree that needed to come down.”

Once the tree was on the ground, the crew cut it up into rounds and stacked it to be split into firewood.

“They went above and beyond,” she said. “They are unbelievable.”

In addition to the crew being competent and hard working, Burton lauded their politeness and their consideration.

“They were very quiet early in the morning,” she said, and recounted several other instances of their thoughtfulness.

McCourt said Burton’s experience mirrored the other comments he has received.

It states Ms. Parton was not at home when the work was done. I'm sure she now feels that was a mistake. It's a lesson we all can learn at her expense. I do my own clearing, but if another crew did I would be there to monitor. When you clear out your own over a longer period of time you adjust to the thinned out areas. When someone else does it in one big clear it's going to look barren.
The group from Chico gets paid per hour/job. They drive up without cordinating with homeowner. They are'nt going to eat the expenses - so hell lets go ahead and cut everything down. The city/county was negligent for not having a simple policy - don't cut anything without the homeowners approval. The poor lady now has permanent damage - based on the gov't.
I would think it would go without saying that a homeowner would want to find out an approximate time they would be there so they could be present if desired. Also this is a free service so I am sure the agency keeps costs as minimal as possible, therefore little spent on admin type work. Also, Ms Parton was a registered nurse, so I would think her income should 'stretch; enough to pay for this work privately since it needed doing, then she could have had more input/communication. When a person buys residences in the forest it is understood that a defensible space needs to be made, I would think she should be grateful that she now has a home that is now less likely to burn in a fire.
I am a senior on social security and my spouse is disabled. Fire Safe rep came out and would do NO work because lumber too close to home. We ended up paying out the $400 we had saved up for our share of Fire Safe work to private people and only accomplished a small part of what should have gotten done. It is too much for us too handle ourselves. What? They can't help move the lumber? Lumber is part of project to better seal around the home to keep embers from getting in. Makes no sense. Bottom line - Fire Safe Council of NO help in making our home more defensible against fire!
I, Kris Parton, AM a registered Nurse. I keep my license current even though I am retired and on Social Security. I repeatedly asked to be told when they were coming to do the work. I was given ONE day's notice, and was told, "IT'S the ONLY DAY WE HAVE THE CHIPPER" So, looking back, YES...I should have declined. Over 60 trees were cut from my yard. I was told they might "thin" a few. Over 30 of these were over 100 feet from my house. The call this a misunderstanding. I say they stole them.



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