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Homes fail safety standard

Homeowners near Buck Gully are not trimming back the vegetation that could threaten property during wildfire, officials say.

July 01, 2010|By Joseph Serna, joseph.serna@latimes.com

Looking out from his balcony, Ira Botnick pointed toward the green, trimmed slope below.

"See?" the Hazel Drive resident said. "It's all cut back and it doesn't look bad, does it?"

Botnick is one of hundreds of Corona del Mar residents whose homes border Buck Gully, a bush- and tree-filled ravine leading to the ocean. For defense against fires, homeowners there are required to have space between their homes and the vegetation.

Every two years, a city-hired company assesses the fire hazards that plants and brush pose to homes in the gully. Property owners are then told what they must do to meet city standards.

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In early June, the company inspected 170 homes along Buck Gully and found that 73 failed to meet safety standards.

"It's supposed to be done every year, but because it's every two years, some people probably don't stay on top of it until this comes through," said Ron Gamble, Fire Department battalion chief. "People do respond mostly. I think last time we only had to force-clear one bush to be in compliance."

Fire officials sent out notices Tuesday to those 73 residents, giving them a 30-day window to comply with the standards. If they fail to do so, a second notice would give them another 15 days. After that, city crews would come out and do the clearing, then bill the homeowners.

Botnick said it shouldn't have to come to that. He accused some of his non-compliant neighbors of being "cheap" and using the cost as an excuse. It's a bone of contention in the neighborhoods, homeowners said.

"What's more important? Spending $500, $1,000, $2,000 or having your house burn with a $50,000 deductible?" Botnick said. "I've been complaining about this for years."

A woman who lived on the same block as Botnick said the issue can turn neighbors against each other. Fearing retaliation from neighbors, she asked not to be named.

"We're only as strong as our weakest link," she said.

If a wildfire breaks out, fire officials said, the vulnerability of homes plays a major factor in which they would try to save first. In areas like Buck Gully, they might start with a home that isn't surrounded by vegetation, officials said.

"We're trying to prevent a large-scale disaster," Gamble said.

Vegetation Standards In The Fire Reduction Zone

A few of the city's standards for homes along Buck Gully, among other city areas:

Trees within five feet of a structure should be pruned to maintain a five-foot clearance

All shrubs and bushes not on the city's fire resistant plant list shall be separated by at least 10 feet branch tip to branch tip

Firewood and other combustibles must be at least 15 feet away from buildings and shrubs

All leaves, needles and twigs must be removed from roofs and rain gutters

All dead or dying ground cover must be at least 100 feet away from the structure

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