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Nova on Trees

TAMING THE FIRE BEAST

High up on Old McCloud Avenue, above the town of Mount Shasta, lives one of the grittiest guys I know. His name is Peter Chesko, and he lives in an area that is long overdue for a major wildfire event. Choked with manzanita, bitter cherry, pine thickets and oak trees loaded with dead-down-to-the-ground ladder fuels, this area is also planted sporadically with homes and structures in vulnerable circumstances perfect for the fire beast temperament of fire. Few homes in this 40-year-old, heavily fire fuel-loaded subdivision would survive a wind-driven wildfire. Most of these homes are accessed only by single-lane, narrow same way in and out driveways. Not having a second escape route for many residents could be suicidal in the event of a fire. It could be possible suicide also for a fire engine crew to take a stand at protecting many of these homes in a fast-moving, wind-driven wildfire.

Thankfully, Peter Chesko’s home environment is dramatically different than most of his neighbors. Over a period of fifteen years, he has quietly, conscientiously, and persistently been reducing fuels on his two and a half acre parcel. He’s selectively thinned out the feedstock that the fire beast could consume and belch out with a flame front loosed to run hell-roaring over the area, testing the wisdom of sane firefighters.

Starting small, Peter first began cutting along the parcel, widening an opening through the thick, heavy ten-foot manzanita a short distance from his house. Using this as his first avenue of defense, he anchored his work from this path, continued widening it, selectively thinning out his over-stocked pines, raising the canopy skirts a safe height from the ground on all his trees to lessen opportunities for ground fire to climb up into tree tops and race away.

Now, Peter Chesko’s parcel is park-like. The skinny pines selected to remain due to their spacing, form, and good health are now maturing, growing strong and stout. Oaks now offer ambiance, wildlife forage, and safety, instead of being fuel ladders for ground fire to climb into then race like Sea Biscuit through the forested subdivision and surrounding wildlands.