Wildfire Season: Time to pass the reins

Adam Spencer, The Triplicate

Fire safe council leaders are seeking new generation with meeting next month

In 2002, Dan and Sharol Leavitt's remote, off-the-grid home on Low Divide Road was threatened by the monstrous, half million-acre Biscuit Fire that burned nearly 30,000 acres in Del Norte County.

"We had just gotten home, and the smoke was bad - so bad," said Sharol recently, recalling the moment before Del Norte County's emergency service manager asked the elderly couple to evacuate all homes off Low Divide Road.

While standing on a ridge, a surge of fire almost knocked them down.

"I said, 'Let's get the hell off of this mountain,'" Dan recalled.

The fire burned within a mile and a half of the elderly couple's home, Dan recalled.

"We had holes burned into our deck," Sharol added.

Just a few months after the Biscuit Fire, the Cal Fire battalion Chief held a

meeting urging county residents to create a local fire safe council, a

grassroots, community-led organization that mobilizes residents to

protect their homes and communities from wildfire.

"They wanted to start a fire safe council and nobody stepped forward, so we did," Sharol said.


2002, the Del Norte Fire Safe Council, under the Leavitts' leadership,

has created the Del Norte Fire Safe Plan, received millions of dollars

in grants for fire breaks and water storage tanks, and they loaned

equipment to dozens of Del Norters to help them make their homes fire


"They have more than stepped up and provided

their civic duty," said Tim DeVos, Cal Fire Battalion Chief for

Humboldt-Del Norte Unit. "People may not realize the direct impact that

they've had on the local community or the benefits that they've


But after leading the Del Norte Fire Safe

Council for nearly 12 years, the Leavitts are looking for others to take

the baton, as Dan has been in a battle with cancer treatment since


To find that new leadership, the Del Norte Fire

Safe Council will be holding a meeting at 6:30 p.m. June 9 at the Cal

Fire station in Crescent City (1025 U.S. Highway 101, Crescent City).

'Neat opportunity'


the Del Norte Fire Safe Plan, an outline for community wildfire risks

and possible prevention techniques, was finalized under the Leavitts'

leadership in 2005, it was one of only 13 such plans in the state of


Having a fire safe plan in place has made

more money available for the U.S. Forest Service and other entities to

create fire breaks and provide 40 water storage tanks for fighting fires

in remote communities like Low Divide, Rock Creek and Big Flat.


its first year of grant-making in 2004, the California Fire Safe

Council has secured more than $81 million in federal fire prevention

funds for groups like the Del Norte Fire Safe Council.


Del Norte Fire Safe Council also has provided assessments of fire risk

for homeowners, providing feedback as to how risks can be mitigated and

how to create 100 feet of defensible space, a patchwork of vegetation

that does not allow fires to spread easily.

As long as

residents provide the manpower, the fire safe council can provide a

wood chipper and a trailer full of weed eaters, chain saws, and pole


"When they find out what needs to be done, they can have the neighborhood come together and get it done," Dan said.

"We can't supply a workforce, but we can supply equipment," Sharol said.


with the fire safe council to create defensible space has helped

tremendously with residents' homeowners insurance plan as well, Sharol


Dan Leavitt sees the fire safe council as a great

opportunity for young people to become introduced to the possibilities

of a career in fire fighting.

"For the younger folks that have an interest, the fire safe council can certainly open doors in the fire service," DeVos said.

Through the council, the Leavitts have also enjoyed staffing the Red Mountain fire lookout during multiple fire seasons.


really enjoyed this. I've had a lot of fun and met some really neat

people," Dan Leavitt said. "It was such a neat opportunity to get

involved with the fire aspect and prevention."

The experience has also been "very rewarding" Dan said.


you get through with a 5-mile long, 300-foot-wide fuel break, you can

stand, put your hands on your hips, look back and feel like you

accomplished something," Dan said."If a fire starts someplace they're

going to be able to get in there and work on it because it's cleared."

Need for young people


to the time required to deal with Dan's health, the Leavitts said they

have been missing out on opportunities to be involved with the larger

state network of fire safe councils and attend trainings on the latest

developments in fire prevention.

"What we need is young

people to come in with some enthusiasm and run the fire council,"

Sharol said. "We're senior, senior citizens."

Keeping up with fuel reduction plans has also been difficult in recent years.


this time of year in Del Norte County the fuels grow so rapidly that to

maintain the fuel reduction program is essential," DeVos said.


happen less frequently in Del Norte County, the rainiest place in the

Lower 48, than other parts of California, making it difficult to get

homeowners to take the risk seriously at times, DeVos said.


is one of our biggest problems," DeVos said. He works to encourage

homeowners to work on fire prevention as much as possible, because "fire

prevention is the key to being a successful firefighter."

Being part of the Del Norte Fire Safe Council can help with that mission.

Reach Adam Spencer at aspencer@triplicate.com .

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