By Rose Marie Scott-Blair
“The Ramona community has stepped up and is doing their part to help themselves and us prepare for the danger of wildland fires,” said Jeremy Davis, fire inspector for the Ramona Fire Department.
“We are doing much better than last year when we had 21 forced abatements. This year we’ve had only one,
with the possibility of four more.”
A “forced abatement” occurs when a property owner refuses to respond to an inspection notice demanding that the property be cleared of brush, weeds and other flammable items. In that case, the fire agency hires a contractor to do the clean-up, and the owner is billed for the work.
Davis attributes this year’s success to a change in how the fire inspections are being done. In the recent past the fire department hired an outside company to do the inspections and work with the public. This year the Ramona Fire Prevention Office is doing its own inspections.
“We can talk to residents directly and assist with the process,” Davis said. “We didn’t have that portunity before, and this one-on-one contact has given us much better interaction with the community.”
The one area that remains difficult is foreclosed property, because neither the previous owner nor the bank wants to assume the responsibility and cost of cleaning up, Davis said.
“We get better cooperation if there is a possibility that the property is going into escrow, because the new property owners are more willing to work with us,” he said.
Cal Fire Battalion Chief Saul Villagomez with the Ramona Fire Department is also pleased with the community’s efforts, but he reminds homeowners that “you can always do a little bit more.”
“We’re always looking for defensible space because that gives firemen a chance to protect life, home and property,” he said.
Villagomez also saw the recent power failure as a good test for residents to see if they are really prepared.
“Did you have batteries and a flashlight or were you sitting in the dark with no food or water?” he asked. “You need to do your part and prepare your family to exist without help for 72 hours so that emergency personnel and first responders can focus on those people who really do need help.”
Villagomez said that residents especially need to be prepared during September and October “when fires burn very well.” The Wildcat Canyon fire at the end of August “had the potential to destroy quite a few homes if the weather conditions had been different,” he said.
When residents are clearing their property this time of year, all mowing should be done between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. — no later because temperatures rise and humidity drops, Villagomez said.
“Remember that a lawn mower is not designed to cut brush or heavy weeds because it heats up really fast and could ignite a fire,” he said. “And when working outside, always have a garden hose or water at the site, a shovel and a cell phone so you can call 911 if something happens.”
Davis reminded residents that they cannot burn debris without a permit, which can be obtained by going to a local fire station and filing out a form. Then an inspector will come out and sign the permit, which is good for 30 days, if everything is deemed to be in proper order.
Finally, the resident must call the fire station the day of the burn for final permission, which is based on the forecasted temperature, wind and humidity. Burns must be done between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. or 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., depending on conditions, Davis said.
“I hope residents know that we are happy to go out and do a free inspection for defensible space,” Davis said. “Give us a call at 760-788-2243. Don’t wait for a complaint.”
“We are prepared and ready,” Villagomez said. “Are you? It’s not too late to be a little more prepared.”