Fight fire with weed abatement

September 10, 2012 

During my years as a newsman in Atascadero, I followed our firefighters to a lot of fires, vehicle accidents and other emergencies — from the middle of town to the highest peaks surrounding the community.

I learned a lot about how fires spread. In fact, early on, my good friend Dick Caddy, then with the California Department of Forestry, asked whether I would mark the edges of a fire with stones because sometimes I’d be the first on the scene of wildland fires outside the city limits.

What always occurred is that the fire would spread over the hill by the time the first engine arrived from the city or county. My marking the beginning of a fire upon my arrival reduced the area investigators had to search for the origin of the fire.

I also saw firsthand how valuable a tool the weed abatement program is for fire suppression.

I remember watching a fire move rapidly across a field near Ortega Road. As soon as it spread to the property next door, heading for the house, the spread of the flames slowed dramatically because the field had been mowed, giving firefighters a leg up on structure protection.

For that, the Atascadero Fire Department is grateful, according to Capt. Bill White, the department’s public information officer.

Capt. White reported that more than 11,000 parcels were inspected this season and 2,296 homeowners found to “have hazardous weeds and/or refuse on their property.” Voluntary compliance resulted in only 56 lots that had to be mowed by the city’s weed-abatement contractor.

“The compliance rate shows that our citizens know and understand the extreme fire threat which faces our community, and they are to be commended for their diligence and perseverance in keeping the weeds cut down,” White said in a news release issued recently.

White explained the goal of weed abatement is to eliminate “light flashy fuels” such as seasonal grasses, which are the first step in the ladder fuels system. In order for brush and trees to burn, it takes preheating, which is caused by all those weeds.

The city’s code enforcement officer and fire marshal, Capt. Tom Peterson, adds, “When you cut your weeds, not only are you helping to protect your property, you are also protecting your neighbor and the entire community.”

He specifically pointed out that the city’s weed abatement program provides him and his fellow firefighters extra time to get on the scene.

Atascadero has had several large wildland fires burn right up to the city limits. We’ve been very lucky so far. The weed abatement program certainly helps with protection from fires.

Lon Allan’s column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Atascadero for more than 45 years. He can be reached at 466-8529 or leallan@tcsn.net.

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