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Officials Urge Fire Protection
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Fire season appears to be officially under way in Northern California, with Escalon firefighters responding to several fires in the month of May. Plus, a Sunday afternoon incident near the multimodal station in Collegeville had firefighters from that department and nearby Farmington stomping out spot fires a train was setting as it rolled along the tracks.

"We're actively involved in the weed abatement program," Escalon Battalion Chief Terry Pinheiro said Tuesday. "We're looking at 20 rural parcels that we received complaints on and I know the city has their list."

As the weather warms and grasses dry out, weeds become a huge fire hazard. The Escalon Consolidated Fire Protection District is responsible for investigating complaints in the county area surrounding the community, while the city itself handles the complaints on parcels within city limits.

"There's quite a process," Pinheiro explained of the weed abatement program. "There's a first notice, then a final notice, then it goes to the county for force cleaning."

Property owners are notified of the complaint and have the option to do their own weed abatement. If no action is taken in a certain amount of time, the final notice to do that abatement is issued. Again, if the specified deadline passes with no action, the property will be cleaned and the homeowners sent a bill for the abatement.

Pinheiro said he's not sure there has been a declaration that fire season has started, but it seems to have gotten off to a busy start here.

"We had eight vegetation fires in May, that's picking up," he said of the calls for service. "We haven't had a whole lot of large fires but we have had a lot of burn pile escapes."

The most serious call to date was a late night Friday-early Saturday morning fire at the corner of Sutliff and River roads, Pinheiro said. The call actually came in just before 2 a.m. on Saturday, May 30.

"It was about an acre on the corner and it was within seconds of engulfing a barn," he explained. "We knocked it down just as it caught the side of the barn."

The weed abatement program is designed to help keep fires from flaring up and going out of control. In the county area, anything over two acres should have a 30-foot firebreak around the property, said Pinheiro.

"Less than two aces, there has to be total abatement, they have to disc it or mow it down, no vegetation over four inches," he explained.

Anyone with questions regarding the weed abatement program can contact the fire department at 838-7500 for more information.

"The way the climate has changed, there's really no off season anymore," Pinheiro said, noting that Southern California fire crews seem to always be on alert. Northern California isn't quite there yet, but he said residents need to take precautions to protect their homes and property.

Pinheiro spent eight days on a strike team assignment during the recent major wildland fire in Santa Barbara, heading there as part of an Office of Emergency Services team that also included firefighters from Woodbridge, Stockton, Manteca, Stanislaus Consolidated and Tracy.

"We did some very active structure protection the first few days," he said.

After the initial attack, his team assisted with mop up and also provided additional structure protection