Guest opinion: Walsh Road residents not required to clear buffer
I'm not so sure I can successfully sue you if a wildfire ignites your house and then sends embers that burn down my home, as I theorized last week.
Why are you possibly off the hook? Because you're not currently required by state law to create and maintain a 100-foot clearing of trees and large shrubs around your home and other buildings, said Deputy State Fire Marshal Ernylee Chamlee. "Of course, you're welcome to create that buffer zone on your own.
"Right now, the only areas where the 100-foot buffer is lawfully required is a new construction site or on rural properties now designated as "state responsibility areas," she said.
But tree trimmers may still be knocking on Walsh Road doors. Here's why.
"In coming months incorporated cities will be holding public hearings to consider adopting the state's "ignition resistance" regulations," Ms. Chamlee said. "If Atherton adopts those new state regulations, then Walsh Road and other tree-rich areas may be forced by law to clear or trim trees to create a 100-foot clearing around their structures."
Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman said the Menlo Park Fire Protection District has mostly moderate and some high-fire threat zones.
"We are not a state responsibility area but rather a municipal fire protection district. Thus, Public Resource Code Section 4291-4299 would not apply to us; rather, the California Fire Code and Title 19 apply," he said.
The town of Atherton could ask that parts of west Atherton be classified as "severe," but I would anticipate that would be very controversial and difficult since, according to the fire chief, the restrictions placed on residents would be significant and would have an almost immediate impact.
One additional way Walsh Road and other Atherton areas may be forced to create "ignition resistance" could come from state officials who are annually required to review certain land areas for possible stricter regulation, Ms. Chamlee said. But the other Walsh Road problem seems headed for an early solution. For the last few months, Menlo Park fire district director Peter Carpenter pointed out that this canyon's single entry might well get clogged during a wildfire as people from 185 houses attempt to escape using their cars.
It soon became clear that Atherton and the fire district were working hard to open the canyon's "dead ends" so that escaping people could walk or drive to other neighborhoods to evade an oncoming wildfire.
Resources: Fire hazard severity zone maps for San Mateo County areas are ready to download at: www.fire.ca.gov and www.cnps.org
Gil Davis is an area writer and former resident of Atherton.