October 2012 home page

Out Damn Weeds
Ann Gardner | Via Latina


Program Inspector Steve Stenberg. Photo Ann Gardner


By all accounts Del Mar’s Weed Abatement program to reduce fire hazard in our community is a success. The number of properties identified as at risk of fueling wild fires fell by 50% in the program’s second year, and a quarter of that number passed re-inspection within a week. By the end of last month all of the identified properties (there were 79 compared to last year’s 148) are expected to comply with a notice to reduce overgrown vegetation, and the City has not had to hire a private contractor to clean up a property at the owner’s expense.

Program Inspector Steve Stenberg, who works out of the Fire Station, credits the good numbers to the program’s philosophy of notifying, listening to and helping property owners understand the importance of removing overgrown, dry vegetation and pruning tree branches away from homes. With loads of fire fighting and fire prevention experience, Stenberg took over the seasonal program in the middle of April and loves his work. He is an affable advocate for fire prevention; residents frequently invite him to do a complete inspection of their property. Otherwise he inspects only by driving or walking by homes in what is referred to as the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI).

The program got its beginning after the 2007 Witch Creek wildfire raced through canyons into residential communities, and Cal-Fire required all cities to identify and enforce defensible space from wildfires. Del Mar identified 500 properties near Crest Canyon and Torrey Pines Extension that must be assessed annually for wildfire susceptibility. The City begins inspections in April and has until the end of September to, first, help residents voluntarily clean up overgrown vegetation and, only as last resort, initiate a non-voluntary abatement.

Owners of identified at-risk properties first receive a 30-day courtesy notice. The notice includes a list of suggested actions, e.g. trimming tree branches that are within 10 feet of a structure or branches hanging five feet or less from the ground, removing “dead falls,” overgrown weeds and brush, and moving woodpiles at least 30 feet away from any structure. When asked, Stenberg also advises on bushes, attic vents, shake shingles, thinning trees and cleaning pine needles off rooftops. The City’s seasonal six-month inspection program ended last month but residents can still contact the Fire Department if they have concerns about fire hazards on their property or in the neighborhood.



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