February 10, 2010 - Minimizing Fire Risk
The last several weeks have been highlighted by an ongoing cycle of lots of rain for a day or two then followed by relatively warm weather for this time of year. The result of this has been rapid weed and other vegetative growth in vacant lots, around homes, storage buildings and other structures. I have noticed growth that is already close to two feet high in some places, and if the present weather pattern persists, this will end up being a very big "weed season."
The main reason for addressing this problem is to minimize the risk of fires once the vegetation dries out. And if property owners and occupants deal with the problem early enough, not only will there be the desired reduction in fire risk, it will also help keep our community looking better. An unkempt vacant lot signals that no one cares about aesthetics or safety, and it reflects on the whole community. A messy community naturally attracts crime. Another problem is that rodents and other vermin tend to establish themselves in areas of thick vegetation. This, of course, creates health hazards with the likes of rats, mice and various insects that proliferate near occupied dwellings.
Cutting vegetative growth early makes subsequent mowings much easier since there will be less material to deal with. Shorter weeds also dry out more quickly, allowing for easier cutting than wet material. Weeds should be cut regularly from this point on. Unabated growth that exceeds a week or two will lead to more difficult cutting, and once dried, will pose a significant fire threat. This growth should be cut close to the ground and kept that way. Clippings should not be left to dry at the site, as they quickly become a fire hazard and are subject to spontaneous combustion. Disking and appropriate weed (and seed) killer is really the best option to keep the growth under control for longer periods of time. Otherwise you will find yourself having to mow the weeds at least weekly, and depending on the size of the land, it could become an overwhelming task. In addition to the practical problems associated with excessive vegetative growth, there are legal consequences as well.
Non-compliant property owners or occupants may also be cited or arrested for violations of the state fire code, city or county codes and the state Health and Safety code. One of the more common legal authorities for uncontrolled vegetation is the Uniform Fire Code which states that "Accumulations of wastepaper, hay, grass, straws, weeds, litter or combustible or flammable waste material, waste petroleum products, or rubbish of any kinds, shall not be permitted to remain upon any roof or in any court, yard, vacant lot or open space. All weeds, grass vines or other growth, when same endangers property or is liable to be fired, shall be cut down and removed by the owner or occupant of the property."
Voluntary compliance is the best way to deal with these problems, and I believe that, in most cases, people just need a reminder. Local fire marshals and code enforcement personnel will be keeping an eye on any properties that appear to require clean-up activity and they will follow-up with the property owners or other responsible parties as necessary. I hope the coming spring season (which starts March 20, 2010) finds everyone in a "fire safe" environment.