Creating a defensible space around a home can protect it in case of a wildfire, and the La Honda chipper program is designed to make it easier for local homeowners to keep their houses safe.
“The most powerful part of the whole thing is when you have people involved in their destiny,” Fire Chief Ari Delay said. “… They feel like they’re part of a solution and they’re able to directly impact what happens.”
Starting Saturday, La Honda residents can bring brush, low branches and other woody vegetation to a drop-off site on Entrada Way. The chipper is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays during the first three weekends of July. The service is organized by the La Honda Fire Brigade and the Cuesta La Honda Guild.
The program started 15 years ago, and originally firefighters would go to individual homes with the chipper. But it only allowed them to reach 50 to 75 homes a summer, Delay said. In 2009, the program took a short break when people started dropping off debris that was not permitted.
“When we get that type of material in there, it bogs down the whole process,” Delay said.
He also said the La Honda Fire Brigade has resolved the problem. Volunteers monitor the drop-off site to ensure that people only bring accepted materials.
Residents are not allowed to bring any construction materials, poison oak, vines, grass, bags of leaves, trash, weeds, rock or concrete. They ask that residents avoid bringing bags as well.
One volunteer is Kevin Miles, who has lived in La Honda for more than 40 years. His own home has a large defensible space, long hoses surrounding it and he’s taken preparations in case the power is shut off. That has become a concern for many residents, he said, now that PG&E is turning off power if an area is at high risk for fire.
“You become proactive instead of reactive,” Miles said. “You have to be ready for anything.”
Miles said the program has helped bring people together in the community. He has started helping his own neighbors to make their homes more fire resistant and thinks the program gives older and younger people more opportunities to interact.
Most people have supported the project, Delay said. Residents have volunteered their time to cover a shift at the drop-off site or brought ice cream to those monitoring the site.
The fire brigade, however, received a complaint expressing concerns about noise and unsightliness. Delay said that, in response, crews have moved the drop-off time to start at 10 a.m. rather than 9 a.m.
CalFire crews put the material thorugh a chipper. The chips have gone to community parks, composting and residents’ gardens.
To pay for the project, which costs between $3,500 and $3,800, the La Honda Fire Brigade receives funding from Fire Safe San Mateo County. The program reduces the cost to homeowners who would otherwise have to take their debris out of town. On average, the crews chip 300 to 400 loads of brush.
It saves residents money too. At Ox Mountain Landfill, a load of green waste costs $77, but the chipper program is free for La Honda residents.