Fire district gets tough on defensible space

Kyle Magin
Sierra Sun

TAHOE CITY and#8212; Clearing property of flammable vegetation and pine needles to protect against wildfire has been law in California for four years, but until this year, local agencies have taken the approach of educating the public instead of issuing citations when a home doesn’t come into compliance.

Stewart McMorrow, the forester for the North Tahoe Fire Protection District, said with only about 10 percent compliance in North Tahoe, now is the time to enforce the law, with monetary fines if need be.

and#8220;For the past few years we’ve been doing inspections as an educational measure,and#8221; McMorrow said. and#8220;But now if someone isn’t in compliance, they’ll have 30 days after an inspection before fines come down, they’ll be on notice something needs to get done.and#8221;

North Tahoe is partnering with the California Department of Fire to issue citations to residents who aren’t in compliance with defensible space. Inspections will begin next week of both Agate Bay and Cedar Flat on the North Shore, and if a house isn’t up to snuff, they’ll be issued an inspection notice and given thirty days after signing that notice to come into compliance. If they aren’t, a first-time fine of $100 will be issued by Cal Fire. A second offense will garner a $500 citation, while a third will qualify as a misdemeanor offense.

and#8220;It’s been two years since the Angora Fire,and#8221; said Cal Fire Battalion Chief Doug Rinella, stationed in Carnelian Bay. and#8220;It’s time now to enforce the law.and#8221;

Under California Public Resources Code 4291, fire districts are given the ability to issue citations for homeowners who do not maintain defensible space on their property.

Rinella, who responds to wildfires which threaten homes each fire season, said homes with good defensible space are much easier and safer for firefighters to protect.

and#8220;A house in compliance is safer for firefighters to protect,and#8221; Rinella said. and#8220;If it isn’t, it almost isn’t worth it if a homeowner hasn’t done any work on their own.and#8221;

McMorrow said defensible space is critical to fire prevention in the basin, and said good defensible space compliments the fuels reduction work done by the NTFPD in the area.

and#8220;It’s really all so interconnected, the work we do and the work homeowners can do on their own property,and#8221; McMorrow said. and#8220;You can potentially save the rest of your neighborhood by having good defensible space.and#8221;

McMorrow said inspections are expected to start Monday.

Homeowners who need more information on defensible space and#8212; how to perform it, how to ask for an inspection or how to mitigate vegetation on their property and#8212; can stop by the fire district’s Tahoe City station for literature and questions.

While North Tahoe and Cal Fire are currently the only two entities on the North Shore enforcing defensible space, they could be joined by Nevada counterpart North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District in Incline.

A Nevada Senate Bill similar to PRC 4291 and#8212; SB 94 and#8212; was passed through the state’s legislature last week and sent to Governor Jim Gibbons for final approval.

If Gibbons passes the bill, North Lake Asst. Fire Chief Greg McKay said Chief Mike Brown may engage the fire district’s board to discuss the agency’s options. To this point, defensible space is only required for homeowners in Nevada who are seeking tree permits or are building a new home. Defensible space evaluations have been set to educate the public on fire safety.

Brown was unavailable for comment on this story.

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