Hidden Meadows is several degrees safer after CAL FIRE crews thinned overgrown and dead vegetation from the Community Foundation Park to reduce the fire threat.
Richard Esparza, who lives on Stonington Way at the entrance to the 13-acre park, is the unofficial “Keeper of the Canyon.” Esparza said he had been engaged in a two-year conversation with CAL FIRE’s Rainbow Conservation Camp, which houses female inmate firefighters, about thinning out the park’s hazardous vegetation.
“Three of the eight or nine oak trees are dead, and much of the underbrush had dried out in the recent drought,” Esparza said. The park’s trails descend into a canyon crowned by canopy of old oaks, some of which are on the verge of collapse. Esparza worried that the desiccated brush and dying trees posed a significant threat to Hidden Meadows residents if a wildfire were to break out.
Beginning on January 11, 60 women inmates from the Rainbow Conservation Camp arrived with their axes, shovels and chainsaws to begin reducing the brush. They are supervised by CAL FIRE and the county Sheriff’s Department.
Inmates are often the unsung heroes of California’s wildfires, as they cut trails to prevent fires’ spread on nearly all major fires. CAL FIRE brought in chippers to reduce the material before hauling.
CAL FIRE Division Chief Nick Schuler, who oversees the Rainbow camp and directs much of CAL FIRE’s fire response in Northern San Diego County, said the project wasn’t in CAL FIRE’s budget, but the department decided to do the job as a benefit to the Hidden Meadows community. He said the brush reduction underwent environmental review before crews began thinning.
When the Deer Springs Fire Safe Council learned that the project was under way, President Craig Cook offered to apply part of a grant that the council uses on fire prevention projects to cover some of the chipping costs. The council received the grant from CAL FIRE’s State Responsibility Area Fire Prevention Fund to reduce the fire threat throughout the Deer Springs Fire Protection District, and has used it to chip hundreds of tons of dead and dying brush.
Esparza was pleased that his persistence had paid off, and that CAL FIRE and the Fire Safe Council came to the community’s aid.
“I’d become increasingly worried about dead brush in the park, and some of the trees that had fallen,” Esparza said. “This is going to make the next fire season a lot easier.”
The park is bound roughly by Meadow Glen Way West on the west, Mountain Meadow Road on the east, Glenmeade Way on the south and Tricia Place on the north. Park access is at the end of Stonington Way.
The park was deeded by Welk Resorts to the Hidden Meadows Community Foundation in 2009 for $1.00, as a community benefit.