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Turning up the heat on fire hazards
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A birds’ eye view down the fence line of Camellia Garden homes shows a fire threat from weeds that homeowners say is only a matter of time before they are confronted with a tragedy. - photo by GLENN KAHL
A three-year-long plea to have dry weeds cleared from behind their properties in Camellia Gardens has apparently fallen on deaf ears, said retired CHP officer Ed Estes.

Estes said he and his neighbors see the weeds as a definite fire threat especially with the upcoming July 4th holiday this weekend.  He and his wife, Jan, stay up all night on the Fourth fearing a fire will develop and spread to the eaves of their home and adjacent homes  from the weeds at their back fence.

Supporting their uneasiness is the fact that illegal fireworks are set off every year in an open lot just to the south of the weeded property that fronts on the 1700 block of Austin Road, Estes said.  The property was originally used to raise small pigs, he added.  Set amidst the weeds are the abandoned wooden pig pens, he said.

Estes and his neighbors, Dale and Lavonne Gillespie, say they have complained about these conditions to fire inspectors for years with no action being taken.

They said they have documented contacts with the Lathrop-Manteca Fire Department dating back to August 18, 2006.  A fire inspector visited their home at that time and after several phone calls he reportedly assured them the weeds would be eliminated.

Estes added that in August a year later, a different fire inspector came out and looked at the situation and noted that other complaints had already been filed with his department – saying it would be taken care of soon.

The residents said they talked to a fire inspector again in May as well as in June of 2008.

“We have lived at this address for six years,  and in that time this yard has not been cleaned up,” Jan Estes said.  “With the fire season upon us we would like to get this taken care of.  Not just a letter to the homeowner, but the weeds cut down and the debris hauled off,” she said.

She quoted the fire inspector as saying the county would have to cut down the weeds if the property owner refused to do so, and then place a lien on the property for the costs.

Interim Lathrop-Manteca Fire Chief Fred Manding said he could only write citations on weed abatement for what could be seen “line of sight” from the front of the residence on Austin Road. He said it would be illegal for firemen to step foot on the property.

He said he contacted Manteca Interim Fire Chief Kirk Waters on Wednesday and asked him to send him information on the complaint from the Camellia Gardens residents and then he would further investigate the situation.

Manding said any abatement citation is sent on to the county saying he has no control over what happens when it goes to the county.  The chief said he couldn’t address the actions of the two inspectors who had already talked with the residents.

The chief added that the county uses a private firm to dispose of weeds, noting they have a workload that goes beyond the south county.