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Residents raise funds for fire safety

Vacant lot in the North Park subdivision scheduled for clearing Friday
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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Local residents who lost their homes in the 49 Fire are working to keep their properties safe this summer. Fran Kehoe lives in the North Park subdivision in Auburn. The neighborhood includes part of a 42-acre area of vacant land that also runs up against Dry Creek Road. Kehoe said after receiving permission from the property owner, neighbors are working to raise funds to pay for Bushwackers, Inc. to clear as much of the weeds in the lot as possible. The project is scheduled to start at 6 a.m. Friday, and may continue on future days if enough funds are raised, Kehoe said. There is a very good reason for this project, Kehoe said. “We lost every house on our street, 10 homes on our street,” Kehoe, who has since rebuilt her home in the neighborhood, said. “We’ve all gone through too much. I don’t want to see that happen again. I’ve got people contacting me who are just living in fear here.” Kehoe said the growth in the lot is around five feet tall, and there is strong concern for those whose houses back up to the property. “They are all near that field, and it’s getting frighteningly close,” she said. “We are going to cut the fire break as big as we can for the money we can get. We hope to create a 75-foot fire break along the edge of the entire community.” As of Wednesday morning Kehoe said neighbors had already raised $1,200 to put toward the project. Kehoe said the property owner has been cooperative and agreed to donate some funds for the project. Attempts to reach the property owner, Neil Reitman, Wednesday were unsuccessful. Neighbors are also hoping Placer County will pass an ordinance requiring property owners to remove high growth on their property, Kehoe said. Supervisor Jim Holmes has said the county is considering just such an ordinance. Kehoe and fellow Auburn resident Ryan Willis, who also lost his home in the 49 Fire, met with Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery about the issue, Kehoe said. Chelsea Fox, spokeswoman for Cal Fire in Placer, Nevada and Yuba counties, said although the department is considering options for the vacant lot in concern, California law currently only allows Cal Fire to enforce 100 feet of defensible space up to neighboring property lines. “What we do, we inspect and we enforce … the defensible space law,” Fox said. “Beyond that there isn’t a law that deals with vacant land.” Fox said Cal Fire supports residents expressing concerns and ideas to local government officials who can spur along changes in law. “Our hands are tied,” she said. “We’re limited by what laws we can enforce. My suggestion is always at the very least write a letter. If there is not a law to enforce, there is not much we can do.” Cal Fire encourages people to remember they have to get permission to work on other residents’ land, Fox said. “There are all kinds of problems you could run into (if you don’t get permission): trespassing, someone could get hurt,” she said. Fox said the department wants every neighborhood to keep growth low and follow defensible-space regulations. “There is an area of concern in every neighborhood, and that is why we just try so hard to get our message out, because even though it’s not a law, it’s common sense,” Fox said. Councilman Kevin Hanley, chairman of the Greater Auburn Area Fire Safe Council, said there are several neighborhoods already showing interest in fuel-break projects. “There is lots of momentum, lots of interested neighbors basically protecting themselves,” Hanley said. Auburn resident Brad Weston said he doesn’t think property owners should be controlled by an ordinance unless their properties present fire risks. “If your property is a fire hazard and it has the ability to affect your neighbor’s property, absolutely they should enforce it with an ordinance,” Weston said. Kehoe said she is pleased with the donations her neighbors have been able to give. “There are some who have given, and some who can’t and some who have given above and beyond … so that helps those who couldn’t,” she said. “I’m just thrilled the way people have come through on this. I couldn’t be more happy that these things are actually going to happen.” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com