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Inspectors go door-to-door checking for fire hazards

By John Ramos

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    CORTE MADERA (KPIX) — Marin County has gone all-in when it comes to wildfire prevention, kicking off a county-wide home inspection program designed to protect communities against disaster.

Corte Madera has typical residential neighborhoods that don’t look like the kind of places a wildfire could even happen. But that’s what residents thought in Middletown, Paradise, Coffey Park and Fountaingrove.

Fire Battalion Chief Todd Lando says Marin County has all the conditions necessary to become one of those places synonymous with tragedy.

“In the last six years, where we’ve watched these fires happen all over Northern California, we’ve been lucky. We’ve been dodging bullets,” said Lando. “No reason that those fires didn’t happen in Marin other than there wasn’t an ignition at exactly the right moment.”

The community has taken note. Last year, Marin voters approved Measure C, a parcel tax for wildfire prevention. The Marin Wildfire Prevention Authority used funds collected by the tax to create the Defensible Space Inspection Program.

Kristi Cascio and Nicolas McNamara are two of the 26 inspectors going door to door, surveying each house in Central and West Marin for fire hazards like the juniper plant right next to Marco Teran’s garage.

“Juniper in general is just flammable. It goes up like a torch,” Cascio told the homeowner as they surveyed the exterior of his home.

The teams log and photograph items of concern, like a missing screen from an eave vent that could allow embers inside the roof, or the fuzzy garden mulch called “gorilla hair” that acts as perfect kindling to ignite a fire. Homeowners are then given a special access code to review their property’s report online.

“I think it’s a great thing,” said Teran. “Everybody kind of has a responsibility to keep their own local zone protected.”

The inspectors say most people seem grateful for the information. While the reports are meant as helpful suggestions for fire hardening, Chief Lando told KPIX issues that pose a severe hazard will not be tolerated.

“We’re trying to educate folks,” he said. “And there will be a few egregious properties to have significant ‘deferred maintenance,/ let’s call it. That we’ll follow up on and there will be some type of enforcement action taken.”

It’s a kind of herd immunity for fire. Each person, protecting their own property, cuts the risk for everybody.

“No houses burning is probably an unachievable goal, but we need to minimize that,” said Lando. “What we don’t want to see is Paradise, where over 12,000 homes were destroyed. And we can get there.”

The program is so new, the online portal won’t even be operational until June 21st. The original goal of Measure C was to inspect each property every three years.

But the program’s organizers said that as they refine the system, they believe it will eventually be possible to inspect all 40,000 homes in the area every year.

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