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(KTXL) — Fire is a natural part of a forest’s life cycle, but as more people choose to make homes in the woods, a lot of effort goes into preventing fires from starting.

As a result, forests grow very dense – thick with trees and brush.

Add years of drought to the mix when these forests do catch fire, the fierce flames can be very difficult to stop.

“So, our crews can’t plug in right next to 40-foot flames. It’s just not safe,” said Morgan Moore, a forestry assistant with Cal Fire. 

FOX40 met up with Moore at a site north of Nevada City where crews are thinning out a heavily-wooded forest.

“The main reason we’re doing this is we’re just trying to reduce fuel loading out here, especially near access roads for local residents because we don’t want fire to start in one area and continue through to another area,” Moore explained. “So, this is a part of a shaded fuel break project.”

In a project like this, some trees are removed entirely.

The ones that remain are stripped of their lower branches – the so-called ladder fuels, which fire can easily climb.

Forest thinning aims to make fire spread slow and close to the ground.

“Firefighters and crews and dozers can get at it more accessibly and can actually stop it,” Moore said. 

Forest management is oftentimes a group effort between cooperating agencies.

“I’m thrilled with what Cal Fire and the Yuba Watershed Institute and BLM are doing,” said Nevada County resident Jo Ann Fites-Kaufman.

Fites-Kaufman applauds the effort as both a resident and somebody who holds a doctorate in fire science.

“People want to keep their privacy screens. They want to keep their trees. And I have a total opposite perspective,” Fites-Kaufman said. “I can see the flames in my mind from having worked on wildfires. I can see them crossing the road when I look at a forest.”

But, what she sees now when she looks down her road is an opportunity for firefighters to defend her neighborhood should a wildfire come her way.

When a forest is thinned out, what’s removed is put in piles for residents to take what they want for firewood. The rest is burned by Cal Fire when conditions are right.

South of Colfax in Placer County, a Cal Fire crew was busy last week igniting piles from a mitigation project there.

“This is between the rim of the canyon and Colfax. So it’s a huge asset for us to be able to help protect Colfax on the American River side,” said Cal Fire Captain Colin Carmichael.

Carmichael explained great care is taken to make sure the purposeful, controlled burns don’t escape.

“So, we cut line around the pile before we burn it and put a berm at the bottom, so anything that rolls gets caught there. And then make sure they’re out before we leave,” Carmichael said. “And we have all of our firefighting tools with us in case we do get something that escapes, and we can put it out.”

Around Lake Tahoe, people would like to see more snow coming down. But this season’s dry spell actually provides the perfect opportunity for crews to get a lot of this work done.

“You can see my firefighter right there, getting into the center of it, and trying to get the center of it going, where it’s the driest portion of it,” said Captain David DeLeon, with the United State’s Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit. 

Burn piles near Tahoe City are part of a U.S. Forest Service project under the supervision of DeLeon.

“So, if we had essentially not cut anything, we wouldn’t be able to see through the forest,” DeLeon said.

This land sits very close to a home owned by Chris Thibaut, who said he spent a lot of time on the phone over the years with multiple government agencies asking for the woods around his house to be thinned.

“The property line is right here – that changes to U.S. forest. That’s State Park on that side over there. Conservancy on the front. Conservancy on the side. And so you’re dealing with all of the different guys to make sure that they come and take care of it,” Thibaut told FOX40.

He’s thrilled to see the U.S. Forest Service doing this work.

“Boy, it’s a beautiful sight for me after all these years of being nervous and afraid of what’s happening,” Thibaut said.

Thinning of similar areas is the subject of some debate – a tug-of-war between people who say the forests should be left alone, and those who say much more thinning needs to be done.

President Joe Biden’s administration recently announced a ten-year $50 billion plan to reduce wildfire risk through forest thinning and controlled burns in California and 10 other Western states.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s latest budget proposal includes an additional $1.2 billion for this kind of work.

But, it’s up to property owners to do their part as well. Thibaut didn’t just rely on the work of others; he made his property safer.

“He’s done a great job of clearing around his house, and bringing folks in and getting all that fuel away from his home,” DeLeon told FOX40.

“Even everyone in their own back yard can remove a little bit of fuel and get that 100-foot defensible space around their house, and that makes our job easier,” Moore explained. “And, if we’re doing this effort out here with different cooperating agencies, then that effort coupled with the effort of private landowners will create a better landscape for us to defend and protect against fire.”

Forest thinning is a true team effort that could save land and lives, long into the future.