Special elections keep fire services alive in Placer County

Spot fires pop-up at hillside at the Trail Fire in El Dorado County and Placer County on Tuesday, June 28, 2016.
Spot fires pop-up at hillside at the Trail Fire in El Dorado County and Placer County on Tuesday, June 28, 2016. aseng@sacbee.com

Placer County residents have voted to strengthen fire services in Foresthill and Placer Hills.

At the county’s special elections on May 7, voters approved two ballot measures aimed at improving local fire services by establishing a new $185 annual special tax for Placer Hills Fire District and $240 for the Foresthill Fire District, according to Kirk Kushen, fire chief for Placer Hills, Foresthill and Newcastle.

Placer Hills will now have access to $925,000 of yearly additional revenue, and Foresthill will have $760,000, Kushen said in an interview with The Sacramento Bee.

The additional revenue is essential to the viability of these two fire districts, Kushen said.

“We’re in the foothills of the wild-urban interface, which is an area where forested foothills have communities residing within them,” Kushen said. “We have grass, brush and timber within our communities. We have a very, very high fire danger rating.”

Kushen said Placer Hills had 99 fires in 2018, and Foresthill 35. This year, the risk for fire is just as serious.

For the past two years, before the special elections of 2019, the two fire districts have been struggling to provide adequate services to their residents, Kushen said.

The Foresthill Fire District was forced to close one of its two fire stations in February 2018 due to lack of adequate funding, he said.

“The community was very upset,” Kushen said. “There were insurance challenges and rates increased. Insurance companies were reluctant to expose themselves to such a risky region.”

With the additional funding, Kushen hopes to reopen the Foresthill fire station by July 2019, and maintain or increase staffing at the two Placer Hills stations, at Meadow Vista and Weimar, which serve the Applegate, Clipper Gap, Eden Valley, Meadow Vista, and Weimar communities. The Placer Hills stations currently employ four full-time staffers and one intern.

“We are thankful that our communities support the need for additional funding and are looking forward to a brighter future for our residents,” Kushen said in a news release from Placer County. “The additional revenue will provide us the ability to continue to serve our communities with the stability of service.”

Placer County provided the initial funds for the elections, Kushen said. According to the county, the two districts will reimburse those costs.

Editor’s note: This story was updated June 14, 2019, to clarify and include more information about the Foresthill Fire District special tax and fire station closure, as well as the funding for the elections.

Candice Wang, from Yale, is a local news reporter for The Sacramento Bee interested in climate change, sustainability, socioeconomic inequality, and culture. She grew up in Connecticut.