Our Fired Up honoree for April 2018 is Cybelle Immitt, a Senior Planner for Humboldt County Natural Resources Planning. One of her favorite responsibilities is providing organizational support to the Humboldt County Fire Safe Council. We met Cybelle in 2016 in Santiago, Chile, where she was participating in CONAF (Chilean national forestry agency) as part of a tour for the Chile California Council.
At that meeting she presented her background and achievements to the assembled group at a workshop; we were amazed to learn all that she had done in her role as a county planner in tying in wildfire safety with natural resources planning. She is largely responsible for the great success of the local Fire Safe Council and for motivating many small communities in the county to become Firewise. She has a unique background that serves her well in her multifaceted role at the county level. The findings about “what works” in her mostly rural county are very important and should be shared widely with similar areas throughout the US and other countries (as she did in Chile).
In her role as a Senior Planner, she has the opportunity to work closely with a group of local, state, and federal professionals and volunteers from diverse backgrounds who are all passionate about preparing residents to live safely within a wildfire environment. With guidance from and in collaboration with Fire Safe Council members, Ms. Immitt has focused significant effort on implementing the Humboldt County Community Wildfire Protection Plan, which includes the administration of a Firewise Communities technical support and small grant program.
The Firewise Program is designed to empower communities within the wildland urban interface to reduce their risk to wildfire losses and encourages residents to work together and take action. Many of the communities she works with are rural and remote with homesteads dispersed over a forested, high wildfire hazard landscape. Identifying local champions for the Firewise message and providing them with support and resources has been important to the success of the program. To date, Ms. Immitt has helped ten communities complete the Firewise recognition program and is in the process of completing an eleventh. She has managed the disbursement of grant funds to support projects in these communities such as defensible space demonstration sites, chipper programs, Firewise events, the creation and distribution of outreach materials, and home risk assessments.
Ms. Immitt collaborated with others to develop the Fire-adapted Landscapes and Safe Homes Program or FLASH. FLASH is a program that shares the cost of managing wildfire prone vegetation (hazardous fuels) with local property owners who live within the wildland-urban interface. This work makes homes and forests less vulnerable to catastrophic damage from wildfire. This is done by creating defensible space around their homes and strategic fuel breaks along escape routes and high-risk areas on their property. She has secured multiple rounds of funding for this program and manages contracts with local organizations to implement the work in their communities. With support from this program, over 750 acres have been treated by hundreds of property owners. In addition to financial support, technical guidance is offered through site visits, hazardous fuels treatment recommendations, and home risk assessments.
Ms. Immitt grew up in rural Humboldt County. She first learned about wildfire hazard reduction and forest heath from working for her father who ran a small sustainable forestry company. As soon as she graduated from high school she was hired as a seasonal wildland firefighter for the US Forest Service. Ms. Immitt worked her way up to a Type 1 hotshot crew for the Sequoia National Forest and was deployed to wildfires throughout the country where she learned about fire behavior, wildfire management techniques, and the destructive power of wildfire when communities are not adequately prepared.
She earned a Bachelor of Science in Forestry Management and a Master of Arts in Social Science, Environment and Community Program, from Humboldt State University in Arcata, California. Her experiences and education prepared her well for her leadership role in wildfire preparedness planning, hazard mitigation project implementation, and community collaboration. Ms. Immitt was one of two individuals selected for the 2012 “Director’s Partnership Award” for “superior performance and outstanding contribution demonstrating the ability to work in cooperative partnership with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.”