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A major project to reduce the risk of wildfires in the Lompoc Valley area is planned by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department using a four-year state grant of nearly $2.23 million the Board of Supervisors authorized Tuesday.

The Lompoc Valley Fuel Reduction Project will target 2,518 acres around Vandenberg Village, Mission Hills, La Purisima Mission and a swath of land from Vandenberg Air Force Base to Buellton.

But county fire officials said the work will actually benefit 49,600 acres of an area with a history of large wildfires.

Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann said the grant will give the county “the opportunity to do fuel management in a very complex area because of all the agencies involved.”

Santa Barbara County Fire Chief Mark Hartwig agreed.

“This is a very large lift for us,” he said of the grant, that will cover all but about 10% of the cost of the project.

County Fire Marshal Robby Hazard said the project will use a strategy similar to the California Vegetation Treatment Program, which the state has developed but not yet implemented.

Hazard said County Fire will use the CalVTP as a template and its program environmental impact report for California Environmental Quality Act requirements to create a county regional plan.

County Fire expects to bring the Burton Mesa Fuel Treatment Plan to the board for approval in late 2020, Hazard said.

The goal of the Lompoc Valley Fuel Reduction Project is to reduce the chance of wildfires breaking out, provide firefighters with access points in case fires do erupt and prevent wildfires from becoming devastating disasters, according to a County Fire staff report.

A variety of treatments are planned to create community defensible space around Vandenberg Village and Mission Hills and reduce roadside chaparral, pines and dead trees along 15.1 miles of Harris Grade, Rucker and Burton Mesa roads.

Creating the 100-foot-wide community defensible space will be completed first, followed by the roadside fuels reduction work, the staff report said.

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The plan also includes removing more than 150 dead trees within the La Purisma Mission grounds, with more than 200 dead trees targeted for removal overall.

Crews also will create a 150- to 300-foot-wide fuel reduction zone extending 18 miles along the ridge tops from Vandenberg Air Force Base to the outskirts of Buellton to create strategic locations for firefighter access, safety zones and staging areas.

Implementing the plan will require creating a dedicated 11-member Fuels Reduction Team consisting of an extra help project manager, an extra help crew supervisor, a regular senior fire control worker and eight extra help fuels crew members.

The new team will be joined by the existing county seasonal extra help fire crew that will be extended to a year-round crew and increased to 20 personnel, the report said.

County Fire will also provide such start-up equipment as chain saws, weed whips, blowers and other hand tools, two fully depreciated utility pickups, a used or leased van and a leased single-wide trailer to be located at the old Fire Station 51 site on Burton Mesa Boulevard in Lompoc.

In addition to the fire crew, Construction Section, fuels crew and GIS Section, County Fire may use private contractors and possibly crews from outside agencies like the California Conservation Corp., Cal Fire and Ventura County Fire Department to complete the work.

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County Reporter/Associate Editor

Lee Central Coast Newspapers associate editor Mike Hodgson covers Santa Barbara County government and events and issues in Santa Ynez Valley. Follow him on Twitter @MHodgsonSYVNews.