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Orange County

Authority Wants an Aggressive Fire Plan


In the wake of this week's brush fire in San Clemente, the chairwoman of the Orange County Fire Authority said Friday that the agency will develop an aggressive campaign to educate residents on regulations on clearing brush and growing native plants.

The effort will make residents better prepared to prevent the type of canyon fire that destroyed four condominiums and damaged a fifth on Wednesday, said Susan Ritschel, who chairs the agency and is a San Clemente councilwoman.

"Obviously, interest has peaked. People want to do something," she said. "They realize there is a real threat, particularly if you live near a canyon with wildlife abutting your property"

City officials also hope to work with the California Coastal Commission to secure any required permits before residents who live near native habitats are allowed to cut down or replace wild vegetation on their property.

"We want to help streamline the process, so they will be able to remove vegetation more easily," Ritschel said. Ritschel said she and City Manager Michael W. Parness have been in contact with Fire Authority officials since Wednesday's blaze and hope to have more concrete plans by early next week.

Meanwhile, arson investigators continue to pursue the cause of the fire and the two or three youths seen running from the beach area where the fire started. No arrests had been made as of late Friday.

The Fire Authority is responsible for ensuring that homes in San Clemente meet building and fire standards. But inspectors do not visit older neighborhoods unless there is a specific complaint, and rely on concerned citizens to identify and report hazards.

Residents who live in Trafalgar Canyon have vowed to establish precautions, many admitting to complacency when it comes to leaving enough room between their homes and native vegetation that burns fast and hot.

County regulations say hillside residents must leave 30 to 100 feet of defensible space for firefighters to work within.

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