Community Cuts Brush To Trim Dire Fire Danger

Pine Strawberry Fuel Reduction committee leads way

Pine residents cut tons of brush and raised money to haul it to the dump to reduce fire danger in a record-breaking dry year.

Pine residents cut tons of brush and raised money to haul it to the dump to reduce fire danger in a record-breaking dry year. Photo by Max Foster.

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A fundraiser for the Pine Strawberry Fuel Reduction Committee at the Bear restaurant in Strawberry last weekend proved an overwhelming success, according to Chairman Mel Palmer.

“We served 200 dinners of baby back ribs and had to turn away people because we were out of food,” he said. “We raised, after expenses, just over $10,000.”

The generosity of the Pine and Strawberry homeowners who participated was impressive.

“We had one person come by and give us a $500 check,” Palmer said. “We had a couple of others give us $250 each and lots of people came by just to donate, not even taking their dinners.”

The money earned will be used to continue a roadside brush pickup program that since 2004 has been an integral part of Pine and Straw­berry’s effort to protect the tiny mountain hamlets from a catastrophic wildfire.

“All funds will be used for fuel reduction,” Palmer stressed. “There is no compensation for anyone on the fuel reduction committee.”

Just last year, the fuel reduction committee took over the brush pickup program that had been run previously by the Pine Strawberry Fire Department.

In 2013, grants that had funded brush pickups dried up and the program was discontinued. That meant homeowners had to make trips to and from a landfill with brush and pine needles cleaned from their property.

Some residents could not dispose of the brush because they were elderly or did not own trucks or trailers.

This resulted in brush and trimmings piling up, creating more fire danger.

Realizing the safety of the communities depended on the brush pickups, Palmer and his fellow committee members began raising money in December 2013.

During an April 5 committee meeting, Palmer told an audience of about 70 residents that the group had raised $14,500, enough for one round of brush pickups in Pine and Strawberry.

However, the program faced a fresh problem when people piled record amounts of brush at the curb.

In early June, the brush truck had dumped 144 tons in the Buckhead Mesa Landfill.

“Because of the enthusiasm of the home owners, it’s going to take longer than anticipated to get all of the piles,” Palmer said at the time.

That meant the group had to raise more money to keep the program going through the summer. So the group decided to hold a summer fundraiser.

Chuck and Barbara Casey, a husband and wife musical duo who form the highly popular Trouble in Paradise, first brought up the idea of a dinner benefit during the April committee meeting.

Palmer credits the Caseys for much of the success of Saturday’s benefit.

“Chuck and Barbara spearheaded it and entertained,” he said.

He also lauded Darwin and Barbara Huber for co-organizing the dinner and owners of the Bear for allowing the restaurant to be used for the benefit.

In the true spirit of community service, a teenager — known only as “Katie” — unexpectedly showed up at the dinner to assist. “She came in and asked if she could help out and started clearing tables and serving,” said Palmer.

Following the dinner, Palmer and Pine Strawberry Fire Department Fuel Management officer Mike Brandt paused to reflect on the success of the benefit.

“Mike told me, ‘this is what fuel reduction is all about; getting together and supporting the program to make this a Firewise community,’” Palmer said.

The chairman is excited that even more benefits could be held in the near future but said the time and place will not be announced until details are finalized.

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