Judith Gilbert saw the growth and became concerned.
The vegetation on the other side of the wall that divides the Sierra Park mobile home complex and the Tres Robles Homeowners Association condos had turned brown. Gilbert, 80, feared fire.
Calls to the city and County Fire Station 107 went mostly ignored for a month. Finally, a fire captain visited Monday and told her it was not a fire hazard, which didn’t appease her.
“Ten or 11 homes are affected,” she said. “It’s very close to my house.”
Fire is a reality in the area. In just the past four months, there have been at least three small fires in Canyon Country alone: a vehicle fire that spread to brush near the 14 Freeway at Golden Valley Road in April (called the Golden Fire), a vegetation fire that broke out in a residential backyard in May and a July fire that destroyed several RVs.
Gilbert has lived in the complex on Soledad Canyon Road for nine and half years. She recalled a fire behind the complex about six years ago that was caused by a flicked cigarette; her home wasn’t damaged. A year or so after that, someone had cleared the brush but she didn’t know who because she wasn’t sure who owned the land. She said she had spoken to fire department officials and wondered if they had found out and contacted the landowner.
The heavy rains this past winter led to new growth. Now, that growth is dry and has crept up the cinderblock wall at one end and along an iron fence the HOA erected on the other end.
In early July, she said, she contacted Station 107, located just across the street. “I talked to six or seven different captains,” she stated. “They said they’d check into it. I started July 2, and I haven’t heard back.”
A neighbor who contacted the City got a similar lack of response, Gilbert said.
Station 107 Captain Ryan Chapin said he has seen narrow land strips in which weeds grow but are not connected to any brush. A brush area of concern ends up on a declaration list, which leads to an inspection, he said, which makes it easier to find the property owner.
“If it’s an unsightly thing, we’re not in the business of going around and telling people to clean up their yards,” he said. “If it’s a genuine fire hazard, we will start working towards getting that handled.”
He nonetheless promised to drive by and take a look.
Councilmember Bob Kellar, reached while on an Alaskan trip, said he often receives calls about dried brush, such as that which runs close to the Metrolink stations.
“I said, ‘Thank you much.’ I made a call, and within a week, it was all cut back,” Kellar said. “If there is an issue, I reach out to Public Works (Department).”
This only applies to city owned land, Kellar explained. If it’s on private property, “We don’t have a right to take taxpayer’s money and go out there and deal with something unless it poses some kind of a real threat to safety. Then we’ll take another look at it.”
This strip of land is private property owned by the HOA, a tile search revealed. A call to the management company resulted in leaving a message for the HOA board, but no one returned the call.
Captain Chapin went over, spoke to Gilbert, inspected the growth and determined it was “just weeds and nothing that poses a significant fire hazard to either side.”
“We explained to her, and that’s why she feels like she wasn’t getting a response from Fire, because it doesn’t even come near the qualifications of that being a brush situation where we would go to our brush-clearance unit,” Chapin said. “Whoever cleaned it before, that was on their own volition.”
Gilbert said she felt like she and Chapin weren’t speaking the same language.
“The way he said it, he passed it off as nothing,” she said. “He didn’t really convince me.”
Chapin said it would be simple to use a weed trimmer, remove the grass and throw six inches of mulch or bark to prevent further growth. But if a fire arises, the station is right across the street and would respond quickly.
“There’s little to no fire hazard. Could those weeds catch on fire? Any patch of weeds could catch on fire, but it doesn’t pose a life safety risk or a hazard to those structures,” he said. “It’s not connected to brush. There is no brush. It’s just some small little weeds.”
Meanwhile the brush remains, as does Gilbert’s concern.
“Maybe I’m making too big a deal out of it,” she said, “but it’s going to get worse.”
*Check back next week as the Gazette tries to help Judith solve her brush problem.