At the recent Town Hall meeting of fire chiefs and at the last Mountain Area Safety Taskforce meeting, important questions were raised about local fire abatement, particularly of vacant properties.
Cal Fire and Riverside County Fire Chief John Hawkins established a private-public committee to investigate and recommend improvements to facilitate fire abatement here.
The Mountain Communities Fire Code Committee includes several local fire officials, a member of Riverside County 3rd District Supervisor Jeff Stone’s staff and two private citizens who held their first meeting Monday morning, Aug. 11.
“It is evident from the MCFSC meeting that we need to do something,” Hawkins said at the meeting’s start. “We need to make the community more fire safe and one of the things lacking is enforcement for vacant lots. We have to break the box and make changes. That’s what the public wants.”
As one of the private citizens on the committee, Sue Nash stressed that private decisions may have consequences across property lines. “I want to be sure my neighbor has to clear the threat to my property,” she implored the group.
The committee will look at previous efforts to enforce fire abatement on the Hill and the application of county ordinance 695, requiring abatement of hazardous vegetation that can be enforced by chiefs of local fire districts. Property owners are responsible for ensuring their property is safe.
If the county must abate the property, the owner is responsible for those costs. If the owner does not pay these costs, the county has authority to place an assessment against the property and collect as it does property taxes.
The committee’s effort will take several months or more as it examines the issue and other legal authorities such as the state’s Public Resource Code.
“I was pleased with the meeting and I think Chief Hawkins is determined that we will move forward quickly,” wrote the other private citizen member of the committee, MCFSC Executive Director Edwina Scott.
Other members of the committee include Ron Roberts from Stone’s office, Idyllwild Fire Chief Patrick Reitz, U.S. Forest Service Battalion Chief Richard Gearhart, and Cal Fire Battalion Chiefs Sean Dakin and Charlie DeHart.