Bay Area starts fire defense clearing

May 7, 2009 6:54:48 PM PDT
The fire in Santa Barbara has been a wake-up call for people here in the Bay Area. May 1 marked the official beginning of our fire season and firefighters are telling people to trim trees and vegetation now. This campaign is kicking off in the Oakland hills -- an area all too familiar with fire danger.

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In 1991, 3,000 homes were destroyed and 25 people lost their lives in the Oakland hills fire. Other communities, such as Novato, are taking note and clearing defensible space as well. The Indian Valley Community of Novato has lush vegetation and neighbors are aware it's a high fire zone.

"We have a community that is taking a proactive stance to reduce the fuel load, so they are bringing in all their dry brush and cut vegetation," says Sandy Wargo, with the Novato Fire Department.

Novato has several drop-off locations for these homeowners. Chipping will be done by the city on May 18th and 19th.

The Novato Fire Department is telling people to create and maintain a defensible space. That means homeowners should cut the grass and weeds down to four inches or less. Fire fighters are especially worried because conditions are becoming dry very quickly.

"That's a comment that the folks say, 'I've lived here for 20 years and nothing has even happen before.' Well things have changed, the trees are bigger and older, they may have sudden death oak syndrome in their trees and they don't even notice it," says Wargo.

In the Oakland hills, a few people are getting an early start. Conditions are still damp, but Barbara Peterson says there is always some concern when the fire season begins.

"We just continuously try to keep everything cut back. We were here during the big fire and we have to watch that all the time," said Peterson.

In these hills, firefighters are asking homeowners to keep the brush down and trees away from structures like wooden decks. Still, Ken Kingsbury waits until after May 1 to begin cutting the brush around his home.

"That's usually too early because they grow back and then you have to do them again, and the fire danger won't be that high until later this summer. So we wait until the latter part of May or the first part of June before we do them," said Kindsbury.

One neighbor said if you don't clear brush around your house, the Oakland Fire Department will do it for you and then charge you.

MORE: ABC7's Bay Area wildfire resource guide and safety tips

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