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Placer County clout could soon ease 49 Fire-area neighbors’ tall grass fears

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Supervisor Jim Holmes says he’s hearing it from people in and around the 49 Fire site in North Auburn about the tall grass that’s growing back on many lots. And in an effort to not have a repeat of a blaze that destroyed 63 homes and caused $40 million in damages Aug. 30, the county is moving on a new ordinance that could do something to ease the fears of neighbors regarding overgrown properties in the county. Holmes said the county is looking at a possible ordinance to spur property owners to alleviate high grass and overgrown brush as a fire safety measure for surrounding parcels. But Holmes, who represents portions of the North Auburn area, said that an ordinance would require the cooperation of fire districts to make it work. The North Auburn area the 49 Fire covered is within Placer County Fire jurisdiction and the county contracts with CalFire for fire protection services. Rui Cunha, county Office of Emergency Services program manager, said that an ordinance could be in place for next year’s fire season but not this year’s. Because of ordinance requirements, it would take two readings and a 45-day period between the two before adoption. That would come in September and it would take at least another 30 days to implement – putting it into the rainy season, he said. The county is already starting to work with fire districts to bring an ordinance in that would get cooperation on inspections, he said. In the meantime, property owners will have to work with their neighbors to try to alleviate any fire danger, Cunha said. “They’re left with what has been used for the last 200 years – at least until the next fire season,” Cunha said. The new ordinance would be similar to one approved by supervisors for a pilot project in the North Lake Tahoe area that started two years ago. Under that ordinance, property owners are required to make their property fire safe if it was deemed a hazard for a neighboring property. If they don’t the county can hire a crew to come in and do the work, billing the property owner. The county has the cooperation of four districts in a program that was started after the devastating Angora and Washoe fires of 2007. Kat Sunlove, who is house sitting in the 49 Fire site, said she can see tall grass outside her window. “They could provide an enormous amount of fuel for a fire,” Sunlove said. “I’m looking and thinking ‘My goodness, it’s looking much as it did last August.’ People don’t learn their lessons.” Sunlove said the owner of the house had been saying for years before the 49 Fire that the open field was a fire danger. “It will take public pressure to do something about this,” Sunlove said. “People have to speak out.”