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Central Coast fire safe councils, fire departments are mitigating fire risk using funds from the California Climate Investments Wildfire Prevention Grants Program

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When asked when fire season officially starts, SLO County Fire Safe Council Executive Director Dan Turner couldn't help but chuckle. Thanks to climate change, he said, fire season is practically year-round in California.

"Typically in San Luis Obispo County, you start experiencing fires mid-April out on the east side of the county, which dries out a lot faster," Turner said. "It will go through November—that's kind of historically typical."

But in recent decades, the rainy season has changed dramatically, and with it, the fire season. This year, Turner said, January was particularly dry. No rain, plus unseasonably warm weather and windy conditions create the perfect storm for fires.

"What we're seeing now is that it stopped raining earlier than April, and it starts raining later than October," Turner said. "So the dry season, the non-rainy season, has gotten longer."

Fire safe councils and fire departments across the Central Coast are working to mitigate fire risk using funds from the California Climate Investments Wildfire Prevention Grants Program, administered by Cal Fire.

Currently, the SLO County Fire Safe Council is managing $12.6 million worth of grants, most of which is from the state fund, plus a few from PG&E.

"It's a variety of projects, from planning projects to doing fuel treatment projects, public education, and outreach projects," Turner said. "Our purpose is to educate and help people prepare, and then work with people on hazard reduction."

The SLO County Fire Safe Council is a nonprofit organization made up of all sorts of different wildfire stakeholders from across the county.

"We literally do things from one end of the county to the other," Turner said. "There's four or five areas where we're concentrating quite a bit of effort and work on. One is the Cambria area."

One of the biggest wildfire threats on the North Coast is the region's forest health.

"We just started late last fall a very significant project that's going to take 10 years to accomplish in doing forest health treatment on the Monterey pine stand up there, which will make the forest healthier," Turner said. "A healthier forest is a less fire-prone forest."

On the southern end of the Central Coast, the Santa Barbara County Fire Department is the main recipient of California Climate Investments Wildfire Prevention Grants, said Jonathan Gee of Cal Fire.

"Santa Barbara County got about a $6.5 million grant in the last grant cycle for a vegetation management project in the Tepusquet area," east of Santa Maria, Gee said. "The Santa Barbara County Fire Safe Council also got about $686,000 to create Firewise programs in Santa Barbara County."

Firewise USA is a national recognition granted to communities that meet certain standards of wildfire awareness and action to mitigate risk, Turner explained.

"They require that the community engage, that the community participates and holds events to reduce fire hazard and to prevent ignitions," Turner said. "The main value in my perspective of a Firewise community is the community is aware there's a problem and they're doing something about it. That's the first step."

Fast facts

The French Hospital Medical Center Foundation's annual Share the Hope event raised $460,000 to benefit the Hearst Cancer Resource Center (HCRC) Endowment. "Thanks to generous donor support and funds raised by Share the Hope, all HCRC programs and services are offered to cancer patients and their families at no charge," a hospital statement said. Over the past 13 years, the annual event has raised more than $4 million for the cancer center.

San Luis Obispo County Public Libraries are giving cardholders access to passes for California State Parks. "With a county of SLO library card, patrons can check out a free vehicle day-use hangtag pass for three weeks, thanks to a partnership between California State Parks and the California State Library," according to SLO County libraries. Patrons can request a pass at slolibrary.org by searching 'Parks Pass' or by calling any county of SLO Public Libraries branch. Δ

Reach Staff Writer Malea Martin at mmartin@newtimesslo.com.

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