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Our View: We can’t wait for fire protection

Our View
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It’s been a year since the 49 Fire and residents and victims of the devastating blaze are seeing dry fields with new, fearful eyes. One of the fields borders the Northpark Place neighborhood where 63 North Auburn homes were incinerated. A year later, the tall, dry weeds that fill the large, open space are all-the-more menacing to rightfully concerned homeowners. The land falls under Placer County and Cal Fire’s jurisdiction. Recently, officials said they are working to approve an ordinance that would require property owners to clear their land if it is deemed a fire hazard. If the property does not comply, the county could hire a crew to do the work and then bill the property owner. A similar ordinance passed in North Lake Tahoe following the 2007 Angora and Washoe fires. However, the earliest the ordinance could be approved in Placer County would be months away and after this year’s fire season is over. That leaves residents on edge through the rest of a long, hot summer. If 63 destroyed homes and $40 million in damages are not reason to expedite an ordinance or enact an emergency ordinance to cut the field now, then what will it take to create a sense of urgency among our elected leaders and fire officials? And it’s not just the 49 Fire field that Auburn residents should be concerned about. All dry fields overgrown with weeds should be cut — now. Chelsea Fox, Cal Fire spokeswoman, told the Journal this week that the agency can only enforce creating 100 feet of defensible space up to adjoining property lines. However, the law does not address vacant lots. With Cal Fire’s “hands tied,” the fire protection agency encourages residents to write letters to government officials urging a change in the law. This hands-off attitude is disturbing and disrespectful to the community and especially to the homeowners who lost not only their homes but also many irreplaceable possessions last year. Cal Fire’s job is to protect the public and that means not only fighting for them at the scene of a fire but also during the off-season. Local Cal Fire administrators should be doing all they can to push higher-ups and elected leaders to find ways to change the ordinance now so residents are further protected. State Assemblyman Ted Gaines, whose district includes parts of Placer County, has authored and is seeing a bill through the Legislature that helps the county recover the costs of the 49 Fire. Can Cal Fire leaders work with him to expedite this proposed ordinance or approve emergency action to clear the field now? Residents certainly feel the sense of urgency. Over the weekend, several homeowners in the North Auburn subdivision worked with the owner of the vacant lot that borders their neighborhood and parts of Dry Creek Road. The neighbors held their own fundraiser and gathered about $1,200 to help mitigate the cost of having Bushwhackers, a weed-cutting company, start to clear a 75-foot break between homes and the field. The driven residents and cooperative property owner are a good example of how residents can and do take responsibility, which is an important part of keeping our community as safe and guarded as possible from wild land fires. However, they need and deserve a more forceful and urgent helping hand from fast-moving, concerned county leaders. We can’t afford to wait until the rainy season to put in place an ordinance that will protect home and property owners. Find a way to cut the weeds in the next few weeks and not the next few months.