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Fire Alert: Defensible Space Key in Cities, Too


Tall grass, lots of weeds and a hot sunny day — the perfect recipe for a brushfire. And they don’t all happen in the woods or near rural homes, either.

What happens when those fires spark inside city limits? Property owners who fail to trim down and keep up with Bend’s vegetation ordinance, for example, can face some hefty fines.

It was a wet spring and, so far, an unpredictable summer,.creating some dense vegetation and proving to some neighbors, wildfires don’t always start in forests.

And with the downturn in the economy, cities like Bend are often left with a huge group of vacant lots filled with dry, dangerous grasses.

James Goff is Bend’s code enforcement manager, who’s out to help us prevent urban blazes on the high desert.

“What we’ve done is we’ve modified our code to meet the problem,” he said, “and the biggest problem we have right now in town, as far as wildfires, are our vacant lands.”

Properties with high grass and untamed weeds and brush are the perfect place for a single spark to ignite an urban brushfire that can quickly get big and threatening.

Those who’ve called bend home for years and experienced the destructive Awbrey Hall and Skeleton fires know the risks fires pose to the city limits. But for those who don’t. the outcome could be catastrophic.

“You know ,we’ve got the same type of vegetation the Arizona fire had, you probably saw how that burned out of control,” Goff said. “That could easily be Bend, if we don’t manage our flammable vegetation.”

Earlier this spring, the city mailed out about 800 courtesy letters to several hundred property owners. But fewer jobs means not enough contractors to finish the clean-up work by a given deadline, leaving untamed vacant lots.

But leaving the trimming until later, could cost you.

“Have we issued citations this year? Yes we have,” Goff said. “We’ve issued citations and collected $3,500 dollars just from one individual.”

The penalty for property owners not keeping their vegetation under control is $908 a day, per tax lot.

If there’s a bank-owned subdivision that has 20 tax lots, they could be facing over $18,000 in fines a day — a hefty price to pay for some simple upkeep.

“Just be smart,” Goff said. “You know, we all want to live in this community. We all want Bend to stay beautiful, and the only way we can do that is to act as a team.”

Firefighters also want to remind people that creating defensible space means clearing away sagebrush, junipers, pine trees and other highly flammable fuels within 30 feet of your home. Prune trees five to seven feet up from the ground, and keep the grass trimmed and watered.

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