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May 27, 2018
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Wildfire awareness week urges vigilance

  • Weeds can be seen growing near the sidewalk on E. School Street in Cotati. Weed abatement is an important part of fire prevention. Katherine Minkiewicz

By: Katherine Minkiewicz
May 18, 2018

This past week was home to Wildfire Awareness Week and with the upcoming fire season, local public safety departments are encouraging residents to take several fire prevention tips, such as creating defensible space and getting rid of hazardous weeds.

With last year’s devastating October fires still on the minds of many, Cal Fire kicked off this year’s Wildfire Awareness Week with an informational event on fire prevention and safety last Wednesday at Rincon Ridge Park in Santa Rosa.

The event emphasized their “Get ready, get set, go,” mantra, which reminds people to create an emergency action plan, a family communication plan and an emergency supply kit.

In a widespread effort to educate Rohnert Park-Cotati residents on fire prevention, the Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety and the Rancho Adobe Fire Protection District are following Cal Fire’s footsteps and are encouraging several smart fire prevention tips.

Rancho Adobe Fire Protection District Battalion Chief and Head of the RAFD Weed Hazard Abatement Program, Mike Weihman, says there are three important things to remember when it comes to fire prevention; defensible space, having a clear exit route and making sure to get rid of irksome weeds.

“Make a defensible space around your house of at least 30-100 feet and do the same around your driveway. Also, clearing lots of high weeds (is important),” Weihman said.

And while weeds aren’t often the cause of a wildfire — more so the cause can be attributed to telephone poles or farm equipment, they can perpetuate a fire and give it the fuel it needs to spread to homes and residential areas.

In preparation of the fire season, which Weihman says is “right around the corner,” the district sends out notices on social media for public outreach and also posts information on the district website (www.rancho-adobe-fire.org) on different options for weed abatement and businesses that offer grazing animals as a way to cut down weeds.

In terms of enforcement, the district regularly addresses problem areas. People who do not trim or remove their weeds by the end of June receive a notice from the district and eventually a citation if the issue does not get addressed, according to Weihman.

Weihman says they are not out there to get people in trouble, however, they do want to ensure that people take the proper precautionary measures for weed abatement as it gets closer to summer. 

The City of Cotati also works with the district to aid in weed abatement efforts according to Cotati City Manager Damien O’Bid.

“The city has continued its historic practice of assisting Rancho Adobe Fire District by clearing the weeds around all city hall fire hydrants to ensure the hydrants are visible and easily accessible during emergencies,” O’Bid said. “The city also mows the weeds on shoulders of public roads in Cotati and on all city-owned properties.”

There certainly seems to be copious amounts of weeds popping up this spring around Cotati and Rohnert Park due to the late April rains we received. Across the street from the Cotati City Hall, a green and brown pasture of weeds can be seen popping up between the cracks in the sidewalk and on street corners throughout the area.

In regards to weed abatement enforcement for the city, O’Bid says since the city does not have their own fire department, weed abatement enforcement comes down to the Rancho Adobe Fire District.

In addition to keeping weeds in check the RP Department of Public Safety said in a Nixle press release that it is also a good idea to, “Remove leaves and debris from gutters and rooftops, to trim low hanging limbs and branches away from your home, know where your gas meter is and know how to shut it off and to ensure your vehicle is properly maintained and fueled.”

When asked what we can expect this year’s fire season to be like Weihman said while we do not often know what the season will be like until after the summer season sets in, sometimes a bad fire season can follow a previous bad season.

“You really can’t tell what the fire season will be like until the weather comes… When there was a really bad fire season (here) in 1965 the following year was also really bad, so it is possible to have back to back seasons,” Weihman said. “We are on our toes.”