Training and Workforce Development Program: Acorn-Sugarloaf Road Fuel Break Project

Nestled along Little Sandy Creek along the northern edge of Fresno County sits the Town of Auberry. More than 2,300 residents call the community home, and despite its idyllic nature, it is a community at high risk of wildfire.The federal government identifies Auberry as one of hundreds of at-risk communities in the urban-wildland interface. To prevent catastrophe from hitting the communities on the western edge of the Sierra National Forest, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) partnered with the California Conservation Corps (CCC) to reduce the flammable woody material in the area. Nearly $135,000 allocated to the CCC from California Climate Investments got the job done.

The CCC Fresno Center spent 4,480 hours using chainsaws and hand tools along Acorn and Sugarloaf Roads near the rim of the San Joaquin River Canyon. Under the direction of CAL FIRE, CCC crews spent several months reinforcing the key fire defense of Auberry known as the Acorn-Sugarloaf Road Fuel Break.

The work completed by the CCC covered 25 acres of State Responsibility Area. The crews removed live and dead vegetation, brush, trees up to eight inches in diameter, and ladder fuels up to eight feet high. More than 1,400 cubic yards of debris was assembled into slash piles for burning by CAL FIRE.

The Corpsmembers worked a 200-foot-wide swath along Acorn Road to reinforce the fuel break, often in difficult terrain. The area is vegetation-dense with a mix of conifers and brush. There are few natural fire barriers, which is why the fuel break is so critical to the area.

“The hardest part was just getting in there,” said Fresno Corpsmember Andy Settle. “When stuff hasn’t been cut in years it tends to be harder, stuff pokes you, and it’s difficult to access. But putting in a fire break, that’s a big deal, it will slow down a fire and give residents time to leave. Being able to see a difference in the work we did felt great.” The area has been hit by 25 major fires in the last 100 years, most notably the August 1989 Powerhouse Fire, which scorched about 21,000 acres and forced the evacuation of 4,000 residents in and around Auberry.