The Kenwood Press
News: 08/01/2019

Vegetation management inspections underway

Follow-up inspections may lead to enforcement

Jay Gamel

Residents of both Kenwood and Glen Ellen fire districts are the first to be inspected for vegetation management compliance under new county rules aimed at making country living safer after the devastating October 2017 fires consumed homes and buildings throughout the county. So far, Kenwood Fire Protection District has inspected 60 of 150 Warm Springs Road properties in its boundaries, according to Chief Daren Bellach.

The 200 selected Glen Ellen properties were all inspected by the third week of July, according to Sonoma Valley Fire & Rescue Authority (SVFRA) Chief Steve Akre. They included properties on Warm Springs, London Ranch, Nelligan and Nuns Canyon roads. Glen Ellen became a part of SVFRA two years ago, and the increase in manpower available was a big boost to getting the job done so quickly, Akre said.

Bellach and Akre both emphasized that the initial inspections are focusing on educating property owners about the new rules, though failure to comply with their findings could lead to enforcement by the county if requested remediation is not performed by the time of the second inspection, which will happen at least 30 days after the first one, though there are no specific dates set yet.

“Everyone has been very nice and cooperative so far – no push back,” Bellach said. And Glen Ellen has seen very little resistance to the program, Akre noted.

These vegetation management inspections are contracted by the county, with the fire departments doing the onsite work, but enforcement will be done by the county, Akre said. “We don’t have the personnel to do that.”

Once a property is inspected and corrections are listed, homeowners have 30 days to get that remediation work done. If it’s not done, the county will have the job of enforcing the work.

“We have agreed with county to support and partner with them on doing the inspections,” Akre explained. “We use their ordinance, and our folks do the initial inspections. We try to focus hard on education, explaining the ‘why?’ Why we are asking home owners and property owners to meet this ordinance. We are getting very positive feedback, with the vast majority being thankful and eager and excited about the program. We are out there trying to make community safer. They want to do their part – though a couple of folks were not real happy.”

Controlled burns

Prescriptive burns are another element of proactive fire suppression. These are aimed at reducing tinder grass when conditions are conducive to controlling the fire. Several were done this spring, including an 18-acre burn behind the Glen Ellen Cal Fire station next to the Regional Park on Highway 12.

Hattie Brown, the natural resources manager at Sonoma County Regional Parks said there are no more burns scheduled and won’t be until at least fall, depending on conditions.

“Burns are complicated,” Brown said, “involving lots of people from many agencies to do.” Among those involved with the Regional Park burn were the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, Cal Fire, Regional Parks and several local fire departments, as well as media contacts to make sure most people were aware of what was happening.

“The program has been very well received,” Brown said. “People are hungry for better fire protection.”

Brown noted that the burns also have a positive ecological effect in many instances, burning off foreign invasive species like medusa head grass, yellow star thistle, and several species of broom after local grasses have seeded, but before the invaders do.