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Fire Hazard

Neighbors fret over dry weeds growing adjacent to property

Norm Silvey and Jim Schmaltz are displeased in the way a neighbor’s tall, dry weeds are being handled.

Norm Silvey and Jim Schmaltz are displeased in the way a neighbor’s tall, dry weeds are being handled. Photo by Jolene Guzman.

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Jim Schmaltz is worried a field poses a fire and safety risk to nearby residents.

DALLAS — Looking over a hay field bordering his neighbors’ property, Norm Silvey knows one thing for certain:

“I think it meets the definition of dry,” he said with a chuckle.

The problem for Silvey and other residents of the Ceres Gleann area of Dallas is that they don’t view the unharvested field as a laughing matter, but a potential fire hazard.

Silvey said his neighbors have raised the issue with the city of Dallas, Dallas Fire & EMS, as well as field owner Fowler Homes on a number of occasions this summer, and not enough has been done to settle their concerns.

A strip of the field bordering the homes was mowed in late June; however, with the extremely dry conditions this summer, people living next to the field believe the fire danger persists.

“They know, but nothing is happening,” said Jim Schmaltz, another resident of the neighborhood.

Mike Schilling with Fowler Homes said the farmer renting the field was unable to harvest this year, but the company is looking at other options.

“We are working with other farmers to get it done,” Schilling said.

That may take some time, though.

Schilling said with conditions this dry, mowing the field may become a fire hazard in itself.

If the machine hits a rock or had a bad bearing, that could ignite a fire. He said the plan at this point is to wait for rain in significant enough quantity to lower the fire risk.

Schilling added it may be into fall before the field could be safely mowed.

The city of Dallas responded to the concerns in June, issuing letters and posting a “weed abatement” notice on the property. The city’s weed abatement program addresses “nuisances caused by weeds, grass and other debris.”

City administrators added another condition to address agricultural fields within city limits, which would apply to the property in question. Fields are required to have a 50-foot buffer zone mowed around the perimeter adjacent to homes, sidewalks or roadways.

The abatement procedure has three steps:

• An initial letter giving the owner a 10-day deadline to address the problem.

• If the first deadline is not met, a notice is posted on the property and a second letter is sent, this time with seven business days to mow.

• If those conditions are not met, the city can contract with a business to mow the property at the owner’s expense.

Megan Beyer, a technical assistant with the city of Dallas, said it took until the last step before a buffer zone was mowed in late June to meet the agricultural standard. She said the property still is in compliance, though she understands the residents’ concerns because the field runs right up to backyard fences.

Dallas Fire & EMS spokeswoman April Welsh also believes the situation is worrisome. Dallas Fire has been a source of frustration for Ceres Gleann residents due to what they feel is a lack of response to their complaints.

Welsh said, in response, that the fire department can’t address the problem on its own.

“We have don’t have any control over what people do with their properties,” she said.

She added there are plenty of properties that could pose a problem that she wishes the fire department — or someone — could just take care of. But the only legal way to do that is through the weed abatement process.

That being said, Welsh said all involved parties — the fire department, city, owner, and neighbors — should find a way to work together to address the issue faster in the future.

“We need to better communicate, all of us working together, to make a safer environment for residents,” she said.

Silvey said even though the owner has met the city code, neighbors remain frustrated and still feel the field is a fire waiting to happen.

Schmaltz said he’s been watching field fires this summer and a vegetation fire at Trinity Lutheran Church a few weeks ago with growing anxiety.

“That burned, it’s getting close,” he said. “We have legitimate concerns.”

Silvey and Schmaltz noted that Ceres Gleann is a retirement community, and they fear some residents would be trapped in their homes if a fire did start.

“If something were to happen, how do we get 50 people out of their homes? ”Schmaltz asked.

Got tall weeds?

The abatement procedure has three steps:

• An initial letter giving the owner a 10-day deadline to address the problem.

• If the first deadline is not met, a notice is posted on the property and a second letter is sent, this time with seven business days to mow.

• If those conditions are not met, the city can contract with a business to mow the property at the owner’s expense.

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