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Fire safety ordinance possible?

Residents working to continue fuel break projects in local neighborhoods
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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A fuel break project continued Monday in an area devastated by last year’s 49 Fire. The residents of the Creekside Place neighborhood, part of the area that lost 63 homes in August, raised funds to have Bushwackers, Inc. clear some of the 42-acre vacant property backing up to their homes and running along Dry Creek Road. Around $2,400 was raised for the effort, according to Jack Kenny, a resident of Creekside Place. The clearing project took place from 6 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Friday and continued during the same hours Monday. “We are adding more to the work that we were originally going to do,” said Scott Serenbetz, Bushwackers owner. “I’m doing it for considerably less than half price. I’m just trying to help out.” Serenbetz said the company also donated one of its track-mounted chippers for the project. The company was charging neighbors under $2,000 for the work, which would normally cost $5,000, and future project days might be possible, Serenbetz said. Serenbetz said the vacant lot is being cleared up to 75 feet from homeowner property lines and the work could span about six acres. It was important for his company to be involved with the project to help residents feel safe in their own neighborhoods, Serenbetz said. “The community could use some help, especially that community in Auburn,” he said. “They were just affected greatly, you know, 63 homes gone. I’ve been in the community since 1976 and my business has been providing the service since 1987. The community’s certainly been good to me. It’s just our chance to help out. Now we’ve got two days in to kind of help put them at ease a little bit.” Weed abatement has been the main part of the project, Serenbetz said. Kenny said he is thankful for the project. “I think it means a lot,” Kenny said. “I think it means saving our new homes probably. I think we worked a good deal there … and we got Bushwackers doing it, and they are doing a fine job. Those weeds were as high as they were when we had the fire last year. I’m glad we got done what we got done.” Kenny said he was pleased with the neighborhood’s effort to raise funds for the clearing. “I think it was awesome,” he said. “The general feeling was, ‘Let’s do something about it.’ This was quite a tragedy we had here. No lives were lost … but a lot of us lost pets and things we couldn’t replace. I don’t want to go through it again, I’ll tell you that.” Steven Wardwell, an Auburn real estate appraiser, said there are advantages and disadvantages to backing up to a vacant property, but he thinks landowners should be required to keep their own properties clear of possibly harmful vegetation. “I think it’s wholly irresponsible (not to keep it cleared),” Wardwell said. “I can see where those people are really nervous. Now that there has been a huge fire and all this damage, people are super aware of it.” Previous attempts to reach the lot’s property owner, Neil Reitman, were unsuccessful. Wardwell said unincorporated areas of the county should have an ordinance in place that follows the same fire-safety regulations as the city. “Here in the city of Auburn you can’t have a field full of weeds,” he said. Pat Malberg, aide to Placer County Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery, said such an ordinance is planned to be discussed at the Placer County Supervisors meeting 9 a.m. Tuesday in the board chambers at 175 Fulweiler Ave. Malberg said the ordinance is called a hazardous vegetation abatement pilot program, and it already exists in eastern Placer County. Discussion is ongoing as to whether or not it should also apply to western Placer County. The program would require the cooperation of western fire districts before it can be put into place. The language of the ordinance still needs to be nailed down, Malberg said, but plenty of residents are approaching their supervisors in support of it. “A lot more discussion needs to happen and all this input needs to be considered,” she said. Malberg said community projects to promote fuel breaks are great, but they aren’t enough. “(Residents) have taken the ball and run with it,” Malberg said. “So that’s working to a degree, but you can’t guarantee that.” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com