Fire inspectors to intensify searches
Property owners can expect fire inspectors to knock on their doors this summer in an increased effort statewide to safeguard communities from wildfire, the state fire marshall said Thursday.
“We’re trying as quickly as we can to beef up inspections,” State Fire Marshall Kate Dargan said at a meeting of the Regional Council of Rural Counties held at the Holiday Inn Express in Grass Valley.
This year’s high fire risk led Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to issue an executive order increasing the number of inspectors on the ground enforcing a new law that requires 100 feet of defensible space around homes.
After an unusually dry winter, June’s forests show a potential for fire usually not seen until August, said Jim Pena, deputy regional forester for the United States Forest Service.
Pushed by those fire concerns, fire personnel could “theoretically” cite homeowners who don’t comply with defensible space recommendations after four visits, Dargan said. The 100-foot clearance is mild in comparison with many insurance company requirements of 500 feet, Dargan said.
All new homes built in fire-hazard zones must comply with fire-safe building standards by January 2009. The new building codes are available on the Web site of the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, http://www.cal fire.ca.gov. The site includes maps of fire hazard zones and methods to make homes fire safe.
“It’s primarily an educational tool, but it’s also describing things that will be required,” Dargan said. The new building standards will cost about $2,000 more per house and will include such things as flame-resistant decking and specialized windows.
The federal government will spend less money this year to replace lost engines and supplement local firefighting crews, relying more on state and local agencies, Pena said. Lawsuits with environmental groups prevent the Forest Service from clearing brush on federal lands, putting a greater responsibility for preventive action on nearby homeowners, Pena said.
Complying with the regulations will dampen the lifestyles of some local homeowners, who said they enjoy the shaded seclusion of a dense forest.
“The reason people live in areas like that is for the beauty and the forest,” said Banner Mountain resident Helene Hall, who busily took notes at the meeting.
“Homeowners are going to have to grapple with reducing a lot of that ground cover,” replied Dargan.
To contact Staff Writer Laura Brown, e-mail laurab@theunion .com or call 477-4231.
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