After a meager turnout to a June meeting of the Del Norte Fire Safe Council to find new volunteers and leadership, the founders and leaders of the group speculate that it may have to be dissolved or significantly restructured.
Dan and Sharol Leavitt, who have helmed the council since its inception in 2002, will host their last meeting on Monday at 6:30 p.m. at the Cal Fire Station, 1025 U.S. Highway 101 in Crescent City, and anyone interested is invited. The Leavitts are stepping down due to health and age concerns and are looking for a new generation to take over the council, which has brought millions in funding for fire prevention projects on mostly private lands in Del Norte County.
“If nobody steps forward, it could be gone,” Sharol said.
The council is a community-based wildfire prevention organization that helps property owners and tenants prepare their homes and communities for wildfires. The council has a cache of equipment including a wood chipper and a trailer full of chain saws, pole saws, weed eaters and other tools that can be used by the public to clear vegetation from homes.
Being an active member of the Del Norte Fire Safe Council can provide a great introduction to wildland firefighting careers, the Leavitts said. Members who receive certain certifications can even get paid when the council’s equipment is needed for regional wildfires.
“For those of you who have met Dan and Sharol, this is a huge loss to our communities at risk and our community as a whole,” said Smith River National Recreation Area fuels planner Sheila Balent, adding the Leavitts have been great partners for the forest service.
Dan Leavitt has been fighting cancer for several years, and the couple is moving from their Low Divide home to a place closer to needed medical facilities.
The Leavitts are hoping that someone will step forward to fill the positions of director and facilitator of the council, but general volunteers and board members are needed as well.
Some of the fire prevention and fuels reduction projects completed under the Leavitts include:
2003: DNFSC funds a “Community Tank Project” that placed several 2,500-gallon tanks on private lands for firefighting purposes
2004: DNFSC awards funds to purchase a large chipper for fuels reduction
2005: Del Norte Community Wildfire Protection Plan completed
2005: DNFSC receives first grant to treat/complete fuels reduction acreage on private lands near the town of Gasquet and Hiouchi in conjunction with Gasquet Community Protection Projects on Forest Service lands. Funding for re-treatment started in 2009
2005: DNFSC-Chipper Program receives funds from BLM to accomplish fuels reduction on private lands, enabling residents to request help with clearance around homes
2006: DNFSC receives funding for fuels reduction on the Hiouchi Fuel Break near Redwood National and State Parks lands
2010: DNFSC receives grant to treat private lands near Forest Service Big Flat Vegetation and Fuels Reduction Project and also receives grant for roadside brushing on several USFS roads near private lands