The fire service in this county has had a particularly busy episode of vegetation fires this past week, and with the current trend of hot, breezy weather, the signs of what may be to come are ominous. Typically, May is not a particularly fire-prone month, but our region has gone through an unusually dry period when under normal circumstances, grasses, weeds and brush would still be green, moist and relatively resistant to fire.
One of the problems making the fire situation worse is that there are still many properties with high vegetative growth that needs to be cut down. When you look around, there are empty lots and yards with tall weeds that are completely brown and tinder dry. It is imperative that these lots get cleaned up and weeds removed - preferably disked under, so as to eliminate the fire danger.
It is important to know that unkempt property that poses a fire hazard opens the owner to civil liabilities and misdemeanor violations. Even if the cause of the fire is the result of someone else's actions, the property owner who has failed to eliminate fire hazards can be cited and held responsible for damages to a neighbor's property. It only makes sense to eliminate the hazards before the situation becomes a legal problem. Local governments have the ability to issue citations for properties that are not cleaned up, and when the owner chooses not to take action, we will handle the clean-up and bill the owner accordingly. It is much better to be proactive and eliminate the hazards before they come to the attention of code enforcement, the fire marshal, or worse, when the property catches fire.
If the early dry season is not already causing enough fire problems through mishaps and accidents, there are at least two arsonists who are active at this time setting fire to places overgrown with weeds and brush. This alone should motivate property owners to act. The police and fire investigators, of course, are actively investigating any recent arson events (like the recent five fires in four days at Dry Creek in Modesto) and we know for a fact that convicted arsonists have been released back into our communities.
While local city governments have a pretty good idea of the properties that need attention for fire prevention, we are asking that residents report locations that appear to pose significant fire hazards. This will help us prioritize our enforcement efforts, while at the same time, helping to minimize the threat that fires pose to both people and property.
Law enforcement personnel, which includes both the police and fire investigators, are taking the fire threat very seriously and will not hesitate to issue citations. It is best, however, that property owners act proactively to remove the hazards to help keep our community safe and eliminate the need for local government intervention.