Rancho Santa Fe Fire District, Association join forces to clear brush, trees for improved fire safety

The Rancho Santa Fe Association and Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District have teamed to help make the community safer while providing important training for firefighters. Over the past few months, firefighters have spent time on the Association’s Arroyo Property clearing diseased and non-native trees and brush from the riverbed. The goal is to help minimize the fire threat in the riverbed while firefighters earn their tree faller certification.

Overgrowth and diseased eucalyptus trees have been a concern for over 10 years. The RSF Fire District and the RSF Association saw an opportunity to address these while providing firefighters with valuable training. The Arroyo Property was agreed upon because of its heavy fuel load.

The project began in January with 32 hours of classroom training for each of the firefighters. Capt. Chris Mertz, who attended a tree felling class in Prescott, Ariz., was the instructor. Topics included the proper use and maintenance of chainsaws, felling techniques, and safety precautions. After the classroom instruction, fire crews applied what they learned in the field.

Before the practice, Urban Forester Conor Lenehan scouted the area and identified trees to be removed. “By thinning out diseased and smaller, non-native trees, we are able to reduce the fuel load in the riverbed while giving the healthy and larger trees more room to grow,” he explained. Lenehan also pointed out that native trees such as oaks and willows were not being removed.

Once the trees have been felled, the Association is removing them either as firewood or chipping them into mulch, which in turn allows the Fire District to do more felling. “If we had to remove the wood, we wouldn’t be able to do as much training,” said Mertz. “We really appreciate the Association splitting the work load with us.”

“We were happy to work with the Fire District to clean up areas of the Arroyo Property,” said Arnold Keene, field operations manager for the Association. “Both organizations want a safer community and this was a way to accomplish that while benefiting the Association, the Fire District, and the environment.”

The training was completed in mid-March, before the start of bird nesting season. Firefighters will then receive their Federal Class A Faller certification. This will allow them to serve as tree fallers on major wildland fires.