Stock fire image

Safety first

Learn how volunteers, staff, and key partners work together to keep China Camp safe

One of Friends of China Camp’s main goals is to make the park as safe as possible, including reducing fire risks for our visitors, as well as our residents.

Not everyone knows that there is a residential area in China Camp State Park, but there is. The housing provides homes for California State Parks employees as well as an FOCC employee and a volunteer. As is happening all over Marin, these homes were recently evaluated for defensible spaces and other fire risks. Turns out we had a lot of work to do. 

Volunteers haul flammable debris by Joyce Abrams
Friends of China Camp trail maintenance volunteers haul flammable debris during major cleanup this fall.

So, in mid-September, FOCC got to it. By the time the project was finished, 25 volunteers and three employees had invested over 200 hours of work over the course of a few days. We scrambled up steep hillsides and hauled countless loads of leaf litter, branches, and other flammable debris. We rented a large chipper and proceeded to chip enough branches to fill a trailer as well as two 18-yard debris boxes (they’re huge) generously donated by Marin Sanitary Service.

What we accomplished, in addition to developing multiple cases of poison oak, was to create a defensible space around two residential structures. We also made our fuel tanks more fire safe, and created defensible spaces around our maintenance buildings, which house essential equipment for trail-building and other tasks all over the park. (FYI, our equipment has all been donated or paid for by donors and volunteers, or purchased with funds from the California State Parks Foundation.) 

FOCC Volunteer Joyce Abrams gets into her work clearing flammable debris from the China Camp Ranger Station in Fall 2021. Photo by Ian Nelson
FOCC Volunteer Joyce Abrams gets into her work clearing flammable debris from the China Camp Ranger Station.

What we do for fire mitigation and safety

All year long and all over China Camp, we take steps to reduce the risk of catastrophic fire in the park. These efforts are implemented by Friends of China Camp volunteers, camp hosts, and park employees. Here are some of our ongoing efforts: 

  • Mow and weed-whip along roadways and in developed areas.
  • Trim trees and shrubs.
  • Control  flammable invasive plants such as broom and pampas grass.
  • Remove dead and downed trees, downed signs, and broken fencing along trails and fire roads and in campgrounds and day-use areas. 
  • Take out trees identified as diseased or dying by arborists from California State Parks.
  • Maintain a fire-safe clearance around and above campfire rings.
  • Annually service 25 fire extinguishers installed at various sites throughout the park.
  • Maintain and install fire hoses at key locations in the park.
  • Enact campfire and outdoor grill bans when Red Flag Warnings are announced by CalFire, even if the warning only applies for elevations above 1,000 feet.
  • Enforce fire-safe rules at picnic areas, including allowing charcoal only (no wood sticks, branches, or logs) in outdoor grills.

Keeping safety top of mind at China Camp

While fire safety is on everyone’s mind these days, we at China Camp aim to reduce all kinds of safety risks for park users and residents. For example, Friends of China Camp staff, plus our volunteer trail ambassadors and other volunteers, regularly patrol the park by foot and bike, keeping an eye out for safety issues. These can include downed trees, trail damage, or downed signs or fencing. 

Flammable debris is chipped then dumped into debris box.
Flammable debris is chipped then dumped into debris box.

In addition, Back Ranch Meadows Campground has two on-site camp hosts who regularly scan the campground for safety issues, including unsafe fire practices.

Other “eyes on the ground,” all aimed at keeping the park safe, include a maintenance host and employee, State Parks employees, and volunteers at China Camp Village. We have an online incident log to keep volunteers and staff informed.

Partnerships aim to keep everyone as safe as possible 

Friends of China Camp also works closely with other agencies to reduce fire risks and improve safety at the park. Throughout the year, rangers from California State Parks make unannounced visits to China Camp, enforcing park rules as needed. 

When issues arise, we do not hesitate to contact the Marin County Sheriff, which responds very quickly when there’s an emergency at the park. Friends of China Camp also has a dedicated deputy who serves as our liaison with the department. In that role, he has helped develop our volunteer safety and security protocols and training.

We also have a strong partnership with the San Rafael and Marin County Fire Departments, sharing information and ways to improve fire safety and rescue issues. Other partners include Marin County Public Works (MCPW), which recently completed a project to remove trees and tree limbs close to N. San Pedro Road. MCPW also routinely mows grass and weeds along the roadside and at parking pullouts, and built earthen berms along N. San Pedro Road to discourage illegal dumping. 

PG&E is another partner that works closely with the park. Efforts to date include rebuilding fire roads throughout the park. Future plans include removing dozens of trees along power lines in the park.

It takes an entire community to keep the park safe and welcoming. We encourage our supporters, visitors, and neighbors to contact us at any time with any concerns. 

Photo credits: -gregg-/Flickr Creative Commons (flames), Joyce Abrams, Ian Nelson

ADVISORY: San Pedro Road will be closed from Main Drive to the Back Ranch Meadows kiosk on October 30 & 31 from 7:30am to 1pm due to the Marin County Triathalon and 1/2 Marathon. The north entrance of the park and Back Ranch Meadows kiosk and campground will remain open. Check our events calendar for more information.