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Tom Geil: Apparently there are no codes on the books to address burn piles on private property

COUNRTESY PHOTO - Oregon City residents are concerned about burn piles potentially igniting and imperiling homes during the summer wildfire season.After last summer's fires and smoke, we've already had the driest April in modern records. Residents in the Park Place Neighborhood have already received Level 2 evacuation alerts due to fires below on Redland Road.

The potential for further dry spells coming up this summer have increased the concerns of residents in the upper Park Place area.

Recently, I spoke with Brandon Paxton of Clackamas Fire District. Paxton indicated that it is out of their authority and jurisdiction to address the property in question. He said that since it was in the city, it is for the city to address this pending fire issue.

Ever since a previous City Commission approved the Park Place annexation area, the owners (Icon Construction) cut down most of the trees, laying them down in the fields for the past three years, allowing them to dry out. In addition to those, there are multiple large burn piles of branches and other debris surrounding the Trail View neighborhood. Someone connected to the owners began using chainsaws to cut the downed trees to sell firewood along Holcomb.

Last summer when the fires raged out of control around Oregon City, the field behind the Trail View subdivision was full of the downed trees and debris, but also the grass had been allowed to grow knee-high and then dry, late into the summer.

At the time, Clackamas Fire District was warning residents from Molalla to Oregon City that burning embers could travel on the wind for a half mile or so. One ember and the field behind Trail View could have gone up in flames, and with it, potentially endangering homes that are approximately 30 feet from the field.

COURTESY PHOTO - Multiple large burn piles of branches and other debris surround the Trail View neighborhood.During last year's fires and smoke, traffic on Holcomb, Redland and other roads were backed up for hours. With only one short half street of Winston Drive for all 97 residents in the Trail View, Wasco Acres and Tracey Heights to exit the pending raging fire, it took several neighbors over an hour to even get out of Trail View and onto Holcomb. The available escape routes were already blocked.

The recent fires on Redland were started by a chainsaw, and possibly other means. Park Place residents have a very stressful concern that as we get later into the summer (if not sooner); our homes are all in imminent danger from the fields surrounding Trail View.

I recently approached the Oregon City Commission for help for the neighborhood. Apparently there are no codes on the books to address burn piles on private property, according to Laura Terway, Oregon City's community development director. They did, however, suggest that Code Enforcement might go out and address the situation. I had requested not only the removal of the burn debris piles, but also a monthly reduction of the height of the grass possibly by using a riding lawn mower to frequently keep the grass and weeds at a minimum.

On May 24, I spoke with Shawn Olson of Clackamas Fire District, who appeared to dispel any immediate potential fire danger. According to Shawn, the trees had been thinned years back, and the low-lying burn piles and logs don't appear to cause immediate concern. Currently with the rain, most of the field grass is tall, but green.

It has been a few weeks with no activity behind the Trail View residential area. Our residents are highly stressed by the seemingly lack of urgency by anyone regarding our plight. As the summer proceeds, the field behind us will only get drier. With the potential of fire below on Redland, one burning ember will place all our homes in jeopardy. Nobody seems to concerned at this time.

Tom Geil is a resident of Oregon City and a former member of the city's Planning Commission.


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