Dixie Fire Rehab II: Rebuilding Greenville

Published: Jun. 7, 2022 at 6:24 PM PDT
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GREENVILLE, Calif. (KOLO) - Last August 4th, the Dixie Fire jumped containment lines and roared into Greenville. In a matter of hours the historic Sierra community of 800 or so was consumed.

The destruction was breathtakingly complete. The downtown, public buildings, businesses were gutted or gone. The surrounding residential area was reduced to ashes with only a chimney here and there to mark what had been a home.

Most of a year later, the wreckage is gone, ruined buildings torn down, but the destruction is still evident. Greenville is an eerie empty landscape bordered by blackened forest.

But there are also signs of rebirth. Families returning to rebuild homes, and ironically some of those homes may be built using material from the burned hillsides.

In nearby Crescent Mills, a newly built sawmill, a joint project of a local lumber company, the non-profit Sierra Institute and the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, is turning some of that burned timber into useable lumber. Some will almost certainly be used to rebuild what has been lost, but there’s a problem. There are few contractors in the area.

“With the contractors that are home in Indian Valley that might limit us to 15 to 18 homes a year,” says Brian West of J & C Lumber. “There’s hundreds of home that have been destroyed.”

But something other than lumber has emerged here, an idea on which could speed things up - a laminated wood product.

“Mass timber,” says Jonathan Kusel of the Sierra Institute. ”Multi-layered panels of lumber that are glued or fastened together in some other way that are highly fire resistant.”

It was used to construct a large shed and its strength is self evident and, Kusel says, if a home is designed to take advantage of it, homes could be put up much faster.

So, he says, the institute has done just that.

“With these plans that our architects and engineers are putting together we’re supporting that work. We’re getting them approved by Plumas County and they will be available to anyone who wants to use them. We’re talking about having some model homes up before the end of September. We’re talking one bedroom, two bedroom, three bedroom homes so folks can see this novel product.”

If it works, it could be the key to Greenville’s rebirth. West says the rest will follow.

“Obviously homes are going to have to come first because that’s how you get the people back, the schools open, the businesses open, those kinds of things.”

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