Yosemite West Property &
Homeowners, Inc.

Yosemite West Fire Meeting - September 25, 2004

On Saturday, September 25, 2004 the National Park Service (NPS), in conjunction with its consultants Wildland Fire Associates (WFA) of Rangely, Colorado, hosted a Yosemite West community fire safety meeting at the Yosemite Elementary School in Yosemite Valley. WFA presented their assessment of the hazardous fuel buildup in the Yosemite West area. Making the presentation from WFA were Dan O'Brien and Carl Douhan, supported by the WFA GIS specialist Esther, and the WFA technical specialist Gordon.

NPS was represented by YNP Fire Management Officer Tom Nichols, YNP Fire Use Manager Mike Beasley, YNP District Fire Manager Deron Mills, YNP Fire Information officers Deb Schweizer and Marea Ortiz, and YNP Wildlife Technician Jack Nichols.

We were also joined by Fire Prevention Officer Patrick "Smiley" Tierney of the USFS Jerseydale office (who conducts annual CDF Property Inspections in Yosemite West), Deputy Fire Chief Jim Middleton of the Mariposa County Fire Department (MCFD), Supervisor Lee Stetson of the Mariposa County Board of Supervisors, and Jan Hamilton and Kimberly Bullock of the Mariposa County Fire Safe Council (MCFSC). Seventeen Yosemite West residents representing eleven households attended.

Two Presentations: WFA and MCFD

We heard two presentations: the first from WFA, followed by one from the Mariposa County Fire Department on their recent GIS survey in Yosemite West.

WFA Presentation

WFA is preparing a report for NPS, which they hope to complete by end of 2004. The report will form the basis for a Community Fire Protection Plan for Yosemite West. This will be a long-term plan and will offer a ten-year comprehensive strategy to decrease the wildland fire risk to our community. It will be the responsibility of the community, not governmental agencies, to develop the rest of the plan. With a plan in place, and with assistance from the government agencies attending the meeting, the goal will be to connect the strategy to funding sources.

WFA views a large scale wild fire as the most serious concern to Yosemite West. The most dangerous and most likely direction for such a fire to come from is up the Indian Creek drainage. WFA emphasized that it is crucial for Yosemite West to become a FireSafe community. Residents can get help assessing their property by working with the Mariposa County Fire Department (also refer to MCFD's GIS survey) and Mariposa County Fire Safe Council.

Community Action

WFA pointed out that although some homeowners in the community are actively practicing the mitigation measures recommended by FireSafe, other homeowners have taken little or no action to protect their properties from wildland fire. The inconsistent application of FireSafe mitigation measures places the entire community at increased risk from wildfire Right now, WFA does not consider Yosemite West to offer sufficient safety to firefighting personnel, which means that in the event of a wildfire, firefighters could be unable to enter our community.

Success Rate

WFA said that their plan will aim for a 90% chance of firefighters being successfully able to defend Yosemite West. While accomplishing this task, there should be almost a 100% probability of keeping firefighters safe. The plan will protect our community by focusing on creating shaded fuel breaks (similar to the trail leading to the fire lookout and the clearing done in 2003 on NPS land at the end of Azalea Lane) within and around Yosemite West, reducing the amount of fuel in the private property surrounding Yosemite West, and helping Yosemite West become a FireWise community.

WFA is engaged in dialog with landowners whose property is within the project area but outside Yosemite West. WFA reported that the landowners expressed willingness to work with the community, but are concerned about liability for permitting workers onto their property and compensation for the commercial value of any timber removed from their property. WFA reported that there are financial incentives for the landowners to cooperate.

In developing any plan, WFA says the following points must be considered:

WFA made the clear point that there is no quick fix to fire safety all the necessary work cannot be done in one year. WFA pointed out, for example, that trees have grown in the past twenty-five years since the development of Yosemite West began. This density of growth poses a threat to the community. WFA reminded us that clearing out the new growth of incense cedar and white fir is a basic step everyone can take now.

Fuels Assessment

WFA has completed an initial assessment of the hazardous wildland fuels, both live trees and downed timber, in and around Yosemite West. Their field data shows that reduction and treatment of fuels on the community's perimeter must be accompanied by reduction and treatment of fuel in the interior of the community in order to afford any significant degree of protection to the residents of Yosemite West.

Project Phases

WFA said that their plan has three phases (refer to the map of the Project Area), starting inside the community of Yosemite West and pushing farther out to the west. The boundaries of the phases are based on the assumption that a wild fire is most likely to come up Indian Creek. Phase I is 829 acres, Phase II 328 acres, and Phase III 545 acres. The first phase deals with the immediate protection and treatment of fuels in and adjacent to the community.

A multi-phase thinning program around the community, WFA said, would result in open, park-like stands of trees with some logs on the ground for critters, which are termed "shaded fuel breaks." This would be accomplished by removing smaller trees, downed debris and ladder fuels (read more about fuel reduction), including limbing trees up to fifteen feet above the ground.

Treatment Methods

WFA explained the several alternatives available to reduce and dispose of these fuels and said that they feel a combination of these alternatives will be the most effective. Their proposed treatment methods (refer WFA's Proposed Fuel Management Strategy report for details) vary in degrees of cost and effectiveness.

WFA said their goal is to recommend a feasible plan, but it will be the community's responsibility to implement the plan (eg, hiring contractors to do fuel reduction) in a coordinated inter-agency effort. The community, WFA emphasized, must be the catalyst to bring other agencies together creating a collaborative stakeholder group. The funding for implementing the plan will come from grants.

An Update from NPS

Mike Beasley, YNP Fire Use Manager, reported that NPS recently awarded a contract to Valley Forestry, based out of the Fresno area. They will be thinning back 200 feet from the centerline of the road leading into Yosemite West, from the national park boundary (our Yosemite West mailboxes) to the Wawona Road. This thinning will then continue down the Wawona Road south to Bishop Creek. Mike said they work VERY fast, and he believes they plan to finish the entire project, before the snow flies this winter. However, because the piles they will make will include much green wood, the burning will not take place until spring 2005. Everyone present felt that this highly visible project will generate enthusiasm for further fuel reduction.

Tom Nichols, YNP Fire Management Officer, reassured the attendees that NPS will respond to any wildland fire that threatens our community. The NPS Yosemite Fire Management Plan (also refer to additional information) divides all land within and adjacent to YNP into two zones: a fire use zone, and a suppress zone. A fire use zone is everywhere above 7,000 feet. Any fire in a fire use zone will be allowed to burn. The suppress zone includes areas below Highways 41 and 120, including Yosemite West, Foresta, Yosemite Valley and El Portal. Any fire in a suppress zone - whether caused by arson, a campfire, lightning strike or any other cause - will be suppressed, he said. NPS cannot guarantee that all fires in a suppress zone will be successfully suppressed, but it is their plan to fight these fires.

Evacuation Plan

WFA and other agency representatives, in response to a question, also addressed the crucial issue of evacuation in the event of a wildfire threatening Yosemite West. They told us that an evacuation plan for Yosemite West will be part of the Community Fire Protection Plan prepared by the community. Although it will not be part of the plan prepared by WFA, they will make recommendations. The goal of an evacuation plan is to eliminate any confusion in the event of an emergency. Should a wildland fire occur, the Mariposa County Sheriff has the ultimate say in ordering an evacuation. Deputy Fire Chief Middleton assured us that the county uses effective evacuation techniques - such as a reverse 911 telephone call to notify all residents, followed by house-to-house notification. The Mariposa County Fire Department, he told us, cannot forcibly remove any adult from their property, but they do have authority to remove children and pets. Evacuating to the condominium parking lot is not a safe plan since the area is too small to offer sufficient safety in a wildland fire. WFA said they will include recommendations for making the condominiums a safe zone in the event of a fire.

WFA's final report, which will form about three-quarters of the framework for our Community Fire Protection Plan, is expected to be done by the end of 2004. WFA said our next step will then be to have a community meeting to determine how best to implement their plan. WFA will give us all the material the community needs to submit grant proposals, including a preliminary cost estimate guide.

Yosemite West thanked the NPS for hiring WFA at no cost to the community, providing a service to the Yosemite West community, and for being GOOD NEIGHBORS!

Please email any questions about the Proposed Fuel Management Strategy directly to WFA experts Dan O'Brien (email: dan@wildlandfireassociates.com) and Carl Douhan (email: carl@wildlandfireassociates.com); please copy any email to NPS Fire Use Manager, Mike Beasley (michael_beasley@nps.gov).

Mariposa County Fire Department Presentation

Deputy Fire Chief Jim Middleton of the Mariposa County Fire Department (MCFD) is conducting a Geographical Information System (GIS) survey of Yosemite West. Read more about the MCFD's GIS Survey to find out what it means to you. Are you in the Red Zone?

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Copyright text © Yosemite West Property & Homeowners, Inc. 2003-2012, Copyright photographs © John Mock 2004-2012.
All rights reserved. Unauthorized redistribution of this document is prohibited. Updated February 7, 2012.