The joyful reunion of two 4-H children, Leia and Caroline Carrico, with their parents after spending 44 hours lost in the Humboldt County wilderness in early March has raised awareness about the benefits to youth involved in the UC Cooperative Extension 4-H Youth Development Program.
Established more than 100 years ago, UC Cooperative Extension launched 4-H to teach children research-based agriculture and rural living skills. Over time, it has evolved dramatically, reaching children in urban centers, inner cities, suburbs as well as rural communities with leadership opportunities, life skills, nutrition education and other information to help them grow into resilient adults.
The Carrico children, ages 5 and 8, had participated in a 4-H outdoor training training program. They lived in a rural area and were well acquainted with the redwood forest surrounding their home. Recalling lessons they learned, the sisters stayed in place when they realized they were lost – a key survival skill, said Yana Valachovic, director of UC Cooperative Extension in Humboldt and Del Norte counties. There were more things they learned from 4-H project leader Justin Lehnert's teaching that helped them survive unscathed.
“Justin told them to leave signs. Searchers found granola bar wrappers and deep boot marks. They knew that they should shelter in a dry place,” Valachovic said. “They knew to keep positive and how to find safe drinking water without endangering themselves by drinking from a creek.”
The 4-H program in Humboldt County has been inundated with calls for a curriculum that can be used elsewhere to teach these valuable skills. The UC 4-H Youth Development advisor for Humboldt and Del Norte counties, Dorina Espinoza, is working with Lehnert to develop a project sheet so the survival skills used by the Carrico sisters can be made available in 4-H and other settings to young people throughout the U.S.
The sisters' odyssey and its happy conclusion shows the hoped-for result of the research-based 4-H learning model, Espinoza said.
“The sisters are smart girls,” Espinoza said “They attribute their application of survival skills to family camping trips, movies about people who get lost and 4-H adventures. 4-H reinforced new or existing skills. We know kids learn with multiple exposures. 4-H is a hands-on approach to learning that other settings don't offer.”
In 4-H, children choose “projects” they are interested in. The projects are led by adult volunteers from the community.
“What's different about 4-H is we have adult volunteers who develop partnerships with youth. They partner in learning, leadership and decision making,” Espinoza said. “That's a beautiful part of 4-H.”
Lehnert is a 4-H parent and volunteer who operates a business in Humboldt centered on enjoying the outdoors.
“Justin brings years of personal and professional experience, having completed a Wilderness First Responder Course of the National Outdoor Leadership School. He studied outdoor recreation at Feather River College and has been an outdoor recreation enthusiast for years,” Espinoza said. “We are so very grateful to Justin for sharing his expertise with our 4-H community.”
Californians can find UC Cooperative Extension 4-H projects near them at http://4h.ucanr.edu.
The UC 4-H Youth Development Program, UC Master Gardeners, UC Master Food Preservers and the California Naturalists are parts of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) that rely on the generous contributions of time and talent by thousands of volunteers.
During National Volunteer Month, UC ANR honors people who help us deliver our research-based information and educational experiences to residents throughout the state.
The UC 4-H Youth Development program has 6,557 youth volunteers and 14,068 adult volunteers.
4-H volunteers serve in many roles, such as club and project leaders, sharing research-based information in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics; agriculture; healthy living; civic engagement and leadership. Their compassion, skills and knowledge are improving the lives of California youth and preparing them for success in adulthood marked by health and well-being, economic stability and civic engagement.
“We would like to thank our volunteers for their dedication, passion for the program and youth, and most of all for giving their time to help develop the next generation of true leaders,” said Shannon Horrillo, director of the Statewide 4-H Youth Development Program. “Our volunteers are the inspiration our state's youth need to thrive.”
The UC Master Gardener Program has trained 30,983 volunteers and currently has 6,116 active volunteers who serve as agents of change in their communities, connecting people to research-based information and sharing skills to help them grow food, protect the environment and meaningfully connect with nature.
UC Master Gardener volunteers staff telephone and email “hotlines,” where residents can get answers to their gardening questions. Many UC Master Gardener programs around the state manage demonstration gardens that serve as outdoor classrooms for presentations and hands-on workshops. UC Master Gardener volunteers can also be found throughout communities at farmers markets, libraries, and garden centers providing answers to questions about home gardening. These efforts have wide ranging impacts, helping people conserve water, reduce green waste, manage pests safely, grow food abundantly, and more.
“We are so grateful for our volunteers' generosity, commitment and passion to providing the public with information they can use to maintain their gardens that protect and support a healthier environment,” said Missy Gable, UC Master Gardener statewide director.
In 17 counties across California, 400 certified UC Master Food Preservers provide food preservation education to the public, ensuring a safe food supply, increasing food security and reducing food waste.
“Currently, a third of the world's food is wasted. Our Master Food Preserver volunteers make a difference at the household level in reducing food waste,” said Katie Panarella, director UC ANR's nutrition, family and consumer sciences program and policy. “To maintain public safety and avoid foodborne illness, the program teaches techniques for freezing, canning, drying and fermenting food safely.”
The California Naturalist program certifies volunteers to serve as informed stewards of California natural resources, docents of public lands, and citizen scientists gathering data about the natural world and wildlife. After completing 40 hours of training in ecology, geology, wildlife conservation, energy, environmental issues and other topics, most of the certified naturalists serve as volunteers with land conservancies, museums, gardens and organizations that deliver workforce education to young adults at the urban core. See the complete list of partners here. Since its inception in 2010, the program has certified 2,855 Naturalists.
“We have a diversity of groups who partner with UC ANR to offer this training program to their existing, new, or potential volunteers,” said Sabrina Drill, interim director of the California Naturalist Program. “The volunteers share the wonders of California's unique ecology by interpreting at parks and nature centers, and taking part in the study and stewardship of the state's natural resources.”
Dear 4-H Volunteer, Thank you! Thank you for your dedication, courage and your conviction, for bringing your sense of adventure to share and...
The unspeakable loss of human life and the serious challenges being faced by survivors has dominated the Camp Fire conversation. Now, UC Cooperative Extension is beginning a dialog with many agencies involved to understand how such tragedies can be prevented in the future.
UC Cooperative Extension fire scientists and representatives of many California organizations conduct fire behavior research, study forest treatments – such as prescribed burns, timber harvest and mastication – and share best practices for home and community preparation. In the Butte County area where the Camp Fire took place, cooperating agencies include CalFIRE, the U.S. Forest Service, the Butte County Fire Safe Council, the Yankee Hill Fire Safe Council, Sacramento River Watershed Program, the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, the Bureau of Land Management, and others.
While the Camp Fire was devastating, it could have been far worse. Working together for decades, the partner agencies have improved community safety and resilience.
They have educated the public about defensible space, fire resistant homes, and evacuation plans. They have coordinated fuels treatments along evacuation routes and around the communities. Through their actions, they saved many lives and structures, protected the town's drinking water supply, and in some cases, provided access for hiking in areas that had been overgrown by brush.
“When you drive for miles through blackened, burned trees and then arrive in a thinning project area full of green tree tops, you know that these efforts are worth it, we are having success and we can make a difference together,” said Calli-Jane DeAnda, executive director of the Butte County Fire Safe Council.
Because of the Camp Fire tragedy, the partner agencies learned many lessons that can inform future maintenance and treatments to improve fire resilience in Butte County and other wildland areas. Kate Wilkin, the UC Cooperative Extension fire advisor for Sutter, Yuba, Butte, and Nevada counties, is able to point to projects implemented in the Camp Fire zone that saved lives and structures.
For example, one family in Paradise was featured by the news media for their successful advance fire planning, which even included the installation of sprinklers on top of the house.
“When I think about what saves a house, a sprinkler is a cherry on top of the cake,” Wilkin said. “If a house is constructed with a combustible roof and siding, if unprotected vents allow embers to get into the attic, or the landscape is not maintained, a sprinkler isn't going to save the house. The sprinkler's power from the grid or a generator will likely fail. High winds may even prevent the sprinkler's mist from hitting the house.”
Rather, passive resistance to fires through better building design, materials and maintenance greatly reduce structure loss.
“Maintenance is an unsung hero of fire resilience,” Wilkin said. “Individual actions at our homes matter.”
First 5 feet around a structure
State law requires homeowners in wildfire areas to clear 100 feet of defensible space around their structures. Most towns in wildfire-prone areas also have their own defensible space codes. Wilkin said where she lives in Grass Valley, anyone with less than an acre of land must maintain their entire property as defensible space.
This guideline is a start, but there is more that people who live in wildfire-prone areas can do to make their homes resilient to fire. UC Cooperative Extension scientists recommend creating a five-foot buffer immediately surrounding the home almost completely devoid of plants and anything that can burn - including wooden fences, firewood, deck chairs and pillows, brooms and other wooden tools.
This extra precaution is important as embers from a distant wildfire can land on or adjacent to a house and ignite combustible items which in turn ignite the home. It was evident in the Camp Fire that the first five feet around homes was a critical factor in the survivability of structures.
The zone can include noncombustible materials such as rock mulch, stone pavers, cement, bare earth, gravel or sand. Low combustibility materials, such as irrigated and maintained lawn or herbaceous plants less than five inches high, are okay. All leaves, needles or other vegetation that falls in this five-foot zone must be removed during the fire season.
“The non-combustible space adjoining the house may be the difference between losing it and all the contents to a wildfire versus returning to the property with the home unscathed,” Wilkin said.
Community fire resilience
Fire survival measures can also be taken at the community level.
In Paradise, the Butte County Fire Safe Council funded CalFIRE crews to thin a number of areas in the watershed below Paradise Lake in 2013 and 2014. Taking these actions allowed an area for firefighters to start a defense and start putting out the flame front, Wilkin said.
“A CalFIRE chief told residents, ‘You provide the offense, we provide the defense.' Homeowners and communities need to get everything set up for successful firefighting,” she said.
Forest thinning has the added benefit of improving recreational opportunities. Near Magalia Pine Ridge School, an 11-acre mastication project in 2018 funded with $30,000 from the Butte County Fire Safe Council cleared overgrown vegetation around the school. This helped strengthen the area's public assembly location, which was identified on the community's evacuation map, and opened up access to a forest hiking trail that was blocked by tangled brush.
The open space dramatically slowed the raging Camp Fire when it approached the school, which is now one of the only schools open in the Paradise Ridge community.
Forest thinning also protected the drinking water for the town of Paradise. A combination of projects undertaken by U.S. Forest Service, Sierra Pacific Industries and the Butte County Fire Safe Council aligned to allow fire fighters to combat the fire and ensure that the source of drinking water was protected.
Concow wildfire safety zone
In 2013 and 2014, the Butte County Fire Safe Council and Yankee Hill Fire Safe Council created a wildfire public assembly safety zone in Concow. The work was completed by inmate crews. During the Camp Fire, dozens of lives were saved when sheriff deputies, firefighters and citizens were able to shelter in the area.
“Wildfire safety zones are pretty uncommon and we may want to create more in wildfire prone areas,” Wilkin said. “But there is a hitch.”
CalFIRE is reluctant to designate temporary refuges because they don't want people to rely on them in place of evacuation. During a quick-moving firestorm, it could be an area where people can shelter if they cannot get out.
“It's a complex and dangerous puzzle,” Wilkin said. “In Australia, they had a similar idea and some places where people sheltered in a fire caused them to die.”
Wilkin is working with Paradise parks to identify areas ahead of time with enough space to meet new national firefighter standards to protect people's lungs from superheated air.
“Historically, we thought sufficient space was four times as great as the flame heights. If you have a Ponderosa pine that's torching 150 feet high, you would need 800 feet around the people,” Wilkin said. “New research has found that the safety zone calculation must also consider potential wind speed and slope. Significantly more space may be needed.”