With more than 22,714 acres burning in Orange and Riverside counties as of Sunday, Aug. 12, fire danger is on the minds of many in South Orange County. Smoke from the Holy Fire has been visible from Laguna since Monday afternoon, when the blaze first erupted in the Holy Jim Canyon area of Cleveland National Forest. As of Sunday, the fire was 41 percent contained, according to authorities.
Thus, it was a welcome announcement on Tuesday that Laguna Beach was awarded the $4.2 million grant the city applied for in June to strengthen fire prevention efforts in Laguna Canyon.
The California Climate Investments Program grant, given by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire), provides funding to help cities and agencies reduce greenhouse gas emissions from wildfires and sequester carbon.
In Laguna, funds will be used for fuel modification in the canyon, where excess dead brush is abundant. The city has recently been ramping up fire prevention efforts in that area, with city council members recently approving a ballot measure that would raise the city’s sales tax to fund the undergrounding of power lines along evacuation routes such as Laguna Canyon Road.
The grant is funded by the State Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund and will provide $195 million to cities and agencies statewide this year.
“This is a huge award for our city and our ability to reduce the risk of wildfire potential in Laguna Beach,” said Laguna Beach Fire Chief Michael Garcia. “It will give us the resources needed to fund hazardous fuel reduction, fire planning, and fire prevention education emphasizing public health and safety, while at the same time reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”
As the state tends to favor large, multi-agency proposals, the city worked with local agencies to form a seven-organization partnership and applied for the grant on June 5. Those partners include the city of Irvine, OCFA, Laguna Canyon Foundation, OC Parks, Greater Laguna Coast Firesafe Council and the Natural Communities Coalition. The city and its partners share a 25 percent grant match commitment.
“As the managing partner for the grant, 95 percent of the grant work is planned within the city of Laguna Beach,” Garcia said. “We are thrilled and thankful to CalFire for the fire prevention this grant will allow us to accomplish.”
Specifically, funds will be used to create fire breaks around structures in Laguna Canyon and Canyon Acres, to cut brush along Laguna Canyon Road to Irvine’s city limits to reduce its potential for ignition, and to restore native habitat in Orange County parklands. There will also be an environmental planning phase to explore different fuel modification methods such as using hand crews and grazing.
Officials said in July that the projects would last a little more than three years, and maintenance would be paid for during that time. However, the city will be responsible for paying for fuel break maintenance after the project is completed. That could cost between $200,000 and $500,000 annually depending on the maintenance method.