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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.

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