Defensible space key to fire safety

May 27, 2008 6:30:29 PM PDT
The Summit Fire has people all over the Bay Area on high alert for conditions that might fuel another big disaster. In Contra Costa County, the number of homes without defensible space has increased, despite efforts to educate owners about the need to create a fire buffer zone on their property

Last year at this time there were about 4,000 homes in the county that lacked defensible space. That number has jumped dramatically.

It may look lush and green, but the thick junipers in front of one Lafayette home make it one of nearly 6,000 in Contra Costa County now out of compliance with defensible space requirements, just in time for fire season.

Rick Carpenter is the Contra Costa fire marshal charged with identifying property owners who have failed to clear heavy brush and fire fuels away from their homes.

"The defensible space, the idea or the concept is to give you 100 feet of defensible space. If he owns 100 feet down the hill, he's responsible for clearing all those weeds and getting the heavy fuels out of there and thinned out," says Carpenter.

Will and Marilyn Atchinson did have the dry grasses around their hillside home mowed recently, but now they know they have more work to do on the seemingly innocuous coyote brush.

Right now the county is educating homeowners, but starting next year there will be strict enforcement against those who fail to comply after several notices.

"We'll send it to a contractor and the contractor will come out and take care of the property," says Carpenter.

In West Contra Costa, heavy brush was removed at no cost for a very few elderly homeowners. Last week, one El Sobrante home was practically obscured by heavy brush. Now it's been cleared, thanks to volunteers from CivicCorps, who created defensible space where there was none.

"We took about one ton of ivy, vines and materials to the dump," says Emily Hopkins with the Contra Costa Fire Department.

That clearing was done on only five homes as part of a limited effort. Fire officials in Contra Costa are hoping to use grant money to expand that to help other elderly homeowners who can't afford to do the clearing themselves.

For more information on Contra Costa County Fire Department's defensible space programs, visit www.cccfpd.org or call (925) 941-3300.


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