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Officials seek fire safety

Laguna Beach building and fire officials are proposing amendments to the new state building code designed to make the city more fire resistant.

The proposed amendments will be reviewed at a public workshop, set for 5 p.m Monday in the City Council Chambers. The local amendments would tighten requirements on construction throughout the city

“We will be asking for more fire-resistant materials and designs,” said building inspector John Gustafson, who will host the meeting. “The amendments we are proposing would be unique to the city.”

Local amendments to the state code cannot be less restrictive than the state model and must be justified by climatic, geographical and topographical findings, according to Gustafson.

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“We have previously been operating under the 2001 code,” Gustafson said. “The new state code has an appendix chapter that is applicable to high fire-hazard areas. Under the new code, all of Laguna is a high fire-hazard area.”

Monday’s meeting will not include a discussion of the codes.

“We may have those meetings later, but we want to stay on target Monday,” Gustafson said. “We are seeking comments from the public and the design community.

“We would like their support and to know if any proposals cause them real heartburn. We want their feedback so we can go to the council and say we have support or the feedback was positive ‘except for this’ and here’s what we think.”

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Scrutiny will include sprinkler systems, roofing, exterior wall materials such as siding and under-eaves construction.

Fire Marshal Tom Christopher supports the high fire hazard designation for the city.

“The main issue is the vegetation that surrounds the city: Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, Aliso and Wood Canyon Parks,” said Christopher, who will participate in the presentation Monday.

“If a fire breaks out in those canyons and is driven by Santa Ana winds, the fire embers are blown three miles, which would certainly encompass the city. Basically, the entire city would get an ember shower.

“A fire in Wood or Aliso canyons could be worse than the 1993 fire.”

To Christopher’s dismay, residents apparently were not affected by or have buried memories of that October day and night.

“In late May, the Laguna Beach Fire Department mailed 1,900 letters offering free home inspections to help residents improve the chances of saving their homes in a fire,” Christopher said. “We have probably had 30 takers.”

Attendance also was sparse at most of the presentations to groups offered last year by the department.

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The invitation for inspections or for group presentations is still open.

Christopher said council adoption of the proposed recommendation by the building and fire department would mean that structures anywhere in town would have to meet tougher construction standards set in the new code.

The new state code will go into effect Jan. 1.

“We don’t want anyone to be blindsided,” Gustafson said.



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