Fire chiefs like Placer County weed-cleanup concept, want more details

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Rural Placer County fire chiefs are giving qualified support to expansion of a hazardous vegetation abatement program to western slope communities. Chief Tony Corado of the South Placer Fire District told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday that while some details need to be ironed out and he hasn’t had time to discuss the proposal with his fire board, he’s positive about it. As well as chief of the South Placer district, Corado is also president of the Placer County Fire Chiefs Association. “We love to support anything that reduces fire’s spread and keeps the community safer,” Corado said. The possibility of extending the two-year-old pilot program in the Tahoe area to unincorporated communities like Newcastle, Meadow Vista and Loomis was broached last month at a board meeting by Auburn-area Supervisor Jim Holmes. Unincorporated North Auburn was hit hard last year when 63 homes were destroyed in the Aug. 30 49 Fire. Holmes said Tuesday that the county now has no recourse with complaints involving overgrown, vacant land. “It’s something that concerns all of us,” Holmes said. “It’s awkward when someone has a complaint and we have to say we can’t do anything about it. It makes us look foolish.” Corado estimated that for every call Holmes or the supervisors receive, his department gets 10. But Corado said that while he and other chiefs are proponents of weed abatement to prevent fires, more analysis is needed, particularly when it comes to costs. Under the pilot program, fire wardens would make initial inspections but the county’s planning department code enforcement division would take cases over if a property owner fails to move forward on land clearing. In the worst-case scenario, the county would hire a business to clear brush and make the land fire-safe, billing the property owner. Rui Cunha, county emergency services program manager, said complaints would be processed involving overgrown parcels that had been undeveloped. When a property has been built on, the onus would be on neighbors to work with neighbors to lessen fire risk, he said. Supervisor Robert Weygandt, who represents the rural Lincoln area, said that he wants to learn more about the impact of a hazardous vegetation ordinance on grazing property or land that has been split into parcels but part of one farm. Cunha said that the pilot program in Tahoe, put in place after devastating wildfires three years ago, has proven effective as a preventive tool that rarely moves into the realm of code enforcement. In more than 80 percent of the cases where the process has been initiated, property owners have complied voluntarily, he said. Cunha has previously said that a program would not be in place in areas like North Auburn during this fire season but the aim is to have one established by next spring.