With the opening of fire season today, Ventura County Fire Department officials are warning property owners to clear brush away from buildings or face fines and fees for the Fire Department to have the work done.
Below-average rainfall this year has allowed the grass to dry out earlier than usual, increasing the threat of fire, officials said.
"Your fire service will do its best to maintain a high level of service in these difficult times," department spokeswoman Sandi Wells said. "We are counting on the public we serve to assist us in this common effort. Together we can be successful."
Home or business owners with overgrown brush must clear their lots by June 1 to be in compliance with county regulations under a weed abatement program county supervisors are expected to approve today.
Fire Department officials said 97% of property owners usually comply.
On April 20, about 17,000 property owners in the county fire district received notices to clear their properties, fire officials said. Anything over three inches tall must be trimmed, and brush must be cleared within 100 feet of buildings.
Fire officials said their brush clearing rules are stricter than in most counties, which require a 30-foot clearance. But the stricter regulations helped keep fire damage during the Green Meadow fire in October relatively low, Wells said.
If property owners do not comply, fire officials typically have a contractor do the work and add a $221 administrative fee. The charges are added to residents' property tax bills as special assessments.
The weed abatement rules help stop fires from spreading to other homes, County Fire Capt. Loyd Wood said.
"We want to eliminate the fuel that will feed a fire," Wood said. "The intent is to give the property owner the ability to protect his home with a garden hose in case the firefighters can't be there."