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Home was not prepared for blaze

Britt Retherford

Just three days after a fire devoured the two-story home where Liz and Tim Ponder lived with their three children on Howe Avenue, next-door neighbor Diane Coelho said her arms were still singed from her attempts to keep the flames off her property.

More than 15 people came to protect Coelho’s neighboring property and about six or seven came to defend the neighbors across the street, she said. “People came from everywhere – people I hadn’t ever met. That was the best thing,” she said, adding there was one man she remembered who identified himself as “just Ken.”

“Just Ken was the guy who first banged on my door and then he just went to work. He was hooking up hoses so it wouldn’t spread up the hill,” Coelho said. She said she lost her orchard and several fence posts in the fire, but no structures were damaged.

Coelho said she is sorry the Ponders lost everything in the fire Saturday evening, but said she believes the home owners, Christine and Gregg Quick of Yuba City – the latter of whom works for the Sacramento City Fire Department – failed to make the property fire-safe, putting the neighbors’ properties in danger.

“This is the fear we’ve always had,” she said.

The issue of fire safety on private property resonates in a county that is plagued with fire danger every year. County fire officials are trying to address community concerns by creating a comprehensive fire plan that will tell people what needs to be done to make homes safe.

For example, residents will be required to create a larger safety zone that is clear of overgrowth and brush around their homes. The issue has been in tailoring it to accommodate a diverse community.

“It is hard to develop regulations that will suit an entire county. I understand what they are doing, and I hope the county buys into it,” said Nevada County Consolidated Fire Department Marshal Vern Canon.

Currently, Nevada County Consolidated has two fire-prevention officials who are responsible for handling all complaints from concerned residents. “We get far more complaints than we can handle and we either issue notices or talk to the residents,” said Canon, adding that most residents comply with violation notices.

Coelho said she went to the fire department to express concerns about the Quicks’ rental property after writing a letter to the Quicks in May, requesting they trim the overgrown blackberries and brush. She said she also offered her assistance or equipment but was refused.

A fire inspector was sent out to look at the property twice this summer, each time issuing notices of violations to the Quicks, she said.

“There were a lot of blackberries around the west and south sides of the main house. It was big and overgrown, something you can’t walk through. The garage and shed were pretty much buried in blackberries and there was also a lot of dry grass,” Canon said.

Gregg Quick said he and Christine Quick had taken care of a few of the violations and, “we were going to go up on Sunday because there was an area that we were going to clean up. I wasn’t really too concerned.”

The Quicks had until this Friday to comply with the notices from the fire department. If they failed to comply then, they would have been cited and subject to criminal charges.

Fire officials are uncertain about the cause of the fire because of the significant damage, but it probably started on the front deck, Canon said. Canon said there is a possibility that ashes from one of the residents who smoked could have started it, or perhaps wood from a ceramic pot used for warmth was the culprit.

Canon said he believes “the vegetation did not contribute to the start of the fire,” and the home would have probably burned down regardless because it was completely made of wood. Therefore, reducing the brush would have not saved the home, he said, but it could have helped reduce the threat to the neighboring properties.

How to Help

The Ponders, who lost their rental home and belongings Saturday in a fire, have three children – a 10-year-old boy and two girls, 5 and 6. Family friend Tami Record is collecting donations of toys, clothing, household goods, etc. for the family at 119 Lidster Ave., Grass Valley, 95945. She can be reached at 477-0628


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