Spurred to act by the intense and widespread wildfires in the western United States, All Hands and Hearts began exploring ways to leverage our volunteer model and project management expertise to assist affected communities. Our Disaster Assessment Response Team (DART) conducted on-the-ground assessments of impacted areas and determined that a year-round program would be the most impactful course of action in California. We initially partnered with CalOES (California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services) who have helped us to identify and connect with vulnerable communities in need of assistance. We want to give a special thanks to the Butte County Firesafe Council who have been our primary partner in mitigation over the last year.
Due to the broad scope of work, we decided to launch a new kind of program. A core component of this pilot program was our sawyer training program, which has helped increase the capacity of our organization by building a team of trained sawyers. This was All Hands and Hearts’ first program offering the opportunity for participants to be certified in chainsaw operations and our first program focused on increasing the resilience of a community to a disaster by completing mitigation activities and rebuilding homes affected by the fire. We increased the scope of our mitigation efforts through tree planting and creating fuel breaks. In early October 2021, approximately 1,000 trees were planted in 2 days in partnership with Stihl in Oroville, California and Memorial State Park, Oregon.
In March 2022 we restarted our year-round wildfire mitigation and relief program in California. This year we are extending our reach to support those affected by the 2020 North Complex Fire, which borders the 2018 Camp Fire burn scar. The deadliest fire in 2020 and sixth largest in California’s modern history, the North Complex Fire culminated 21 unique fires and devastated an estimated 318,935 acres. This is the equivalent of an area over one and a half times the size of New York City.
This program is focused on increasing the resilience of a community to a disaster by completing mitigation activities. This will involve continuing our sawyer training program, which has helped increase the capacity of our organization by building a team of trained sawyers. Our mitigation projects will include but are not limited to, widening evacuation routes and the construction of defensible space – the buffer around a home to slow or stop the spread of wildfire and hazard tree removal.
The latest group of volunteers arrived in early March and began training in chainsaw work by our certified staff. This capability creates a valuable skilled labor force for local mitigation projects run by our partners, Butte County Fire Safe Council and Paradise Recreation & Park District. Some of this season’s projects will involve new applications of chainsaw skills to buffer communities from fires on a house-by-house basis.
In tandem with the ongoing sawyer training, our team is hard at work supporting the community of Berry Creek. In March, work included removing fire hazard trees that prevent rebuild efforts, making the land safer for homeowners to access. These felled trees are then put into piles to streamline the removal process from our partner at Butte County FireSafe Council.
Alongside the sawyer training program, we have been busy connecting with partners in Butte County. In the last week of March, team members attended a California Fire Safe Council workshop and networking event with the aim to build connections and identify opportunities to plug our volunteer labor force and project management expertise into local wildfire mitigation projects.