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Tuolumne Supes Declare Wildfire Emergency, Approve Coalition

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Sonora, CA – Two significant moves to increase wildfire safety and resilience unanimously passed underscore Tuolumne County’s leadership at the forefront of both.

On Tuesday, the board heard a presentation by County OES Coordinator Liz Peterson outlining the nexus for the board to adopt a local state of emergency due to numerous fact findings demonstrating that severe and persistent fire conditions within the county require resources and assistance from both state and federal agencies to prevent and prepare for an imminent threat.

She pointed out that under state law, a jurisdiction may claim a state of emergency when conditions of disaster or extreme peril to personal and property safety are likely to beyond the control of its services, personnel, equipment, and facilities.

“There’s been a lot that has led up to this moment,” Peterson began. “Your board has taken great measures, really stepped out into the forefront to lead the effort in the state, frankly, for fire safety and community resilience…yet here we are, still in need of additional resources is frankly, what we are here for.”

Outgoing Board Chair Karl Rodefer offered that while it may be a little unusual to declare an emergency when there is not an active fire event, the county otherwise lacks the resources to decrease hazard conditions on public as well as private lands and that such a resolution could help prevent a disaster instead of waiting for one to happen and then having to deal with it.

Another First In Rural County Leadership

Peterson confirmed that the move will probably be a trailblazing one that other counties might consider, including some of the rural counties with which Tuolumne collaborates.

The newly passed resolution requests the California Governor to approve disaster assistance or any other dedicated state funding for use in four targeted ways.

Specifically, it calls for enabling road construction in communities with one access route; covering non-primary road maintenance to provide additional emergency access; doing vegetation management in and around public infrastructure; providing defensible space assistance for seniors aged 60 and over with access and functional needs; developing a residential green-waste removal and disposal program.

The resolution also asks the governor to waive CEQA regulations for fuel reduction projects conducted by the county, fire-safe councils, resource conservation districts, natural resources conservation services, and special districts. It additionally requests registration waivers from the Department of Industrial Relations for fuel reduction and home hardening activities.

A related resolution also passed by the supervisors supports the formation of a regional county coalition for fire preparedness, forest health and community resilience with the governments of Alpine, Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, and Mariposa counties.

Broadening Coordinated Efforts 

As part of the board’s efforts to prioritize fire safety and community resilience, county staff had been meeting with counterparts in neighboring rural counties since last May for the purposes of developing a broader and more coordinated effort.

The boards of supervisors in the other above-listed counties are also considering the resolution at their January meetings.

“We share a lot of the same issues that prevent us from able to tackle what is perhaps the highest threat for the counties,” Peterson noted, adding that a formal coalition will allow more coordinating between them to get more buy-in and resources from the state.

While she said most of the other counties still deciding whether to also declare local emergencies due to persistent and severe wildfire threat, Tuolumne County stepping out to do so might encourage other counties to do the same.

Rodefer lauded the board’s strong support of the proposed coalition, opining. “I think it is another really good example of Tuolumne County stepping out and not being afraid of being the first one to jump in the water.”

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