Riverside County Focuses on Clean-Up of Green Waste Piles to Reduce Fire Hazards
EASTERN COACHELLA VALLEY – Riverside County departments are working to reduce the risk of fires stemming from mounds of green waste in the unincorporated communities of the eastern Coachella Valley.
Since forming four months ago, the Riverside County Combustible Materials Taskforce has gone out to over 25 sites in Mecca, Thermal and Oasis with green waste piles. The taskforce inspects the parcels, and evaluates options, including working with the owners and enforcement actions, to speed up the clean-up. The taskforce is also distributing informational brochures in English and Spanish to educate community members about green waste fire prevention and green waste disposal sites.
The agencies on the taskforce are the Riverside County Code Enforcement Department, Riverside County Fire Department, Riverside County Department of Environmental Health, and the Riverside County Office of County Counsel.
Supervisor V. Manuel Perez assembled the task force amid an increase in fires in the eastern Coachella Valley. Wildland fires in the Battalion 6 area (Coachella, Mecca, Oasis, Thermal and North Shore) have risen from 221 in 2016, to 267 in 2017, to 290 in 2018.
“It is crucial that we tackle illegal dumping and green waste because it is contributing to fires that affect public health,” said Supervisor Perez. “There is much work to do, but this is a longer term strategy to address and clean up areas of concern on unincorporated land before more fires are caused. I want to thank county staff for the good work they are doing to address this."
The Coachella Valley’s federal and state representatives praised Riverside County for its collaborative and proactive approach to this issue.
“Riverside County Supervisor Perez’s commitment to cleaning up illegal dumpsites on east valley county land is an essential part of our comprehensive multi-government and multiagency approach to prevent environmental hazards and promote environmental justice for valley residents,” said Dr. Ruiz (CA-36). “I applaud his efforts and fully support the Environmental Justice Collaborative’s initiative to prevent, mitigate and respond to airborne hazards to protect the public’s health."
State Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia stated: “I am extremely grateful for all the tribal, county, state, and federal entities who have pulled together for swift and collaborative action on this urgent issue. We must maintain a proactive approach to identifying illegal dumping and other environmental violations to prevent future occurrences. In the State Legislature, we are implementing air quality improvement policies directly driven by community members. Our office is fully committed to continue supporting efforts such as those being undertaken by the county to ensure the health and wellbeing of our families.”
Fires occur every year in Riverside County due to unmonitored green waste piles. These fires can burn for days, affecting public health and resulting in costly clean-ups, damage to the environment, and a strain on fire response personnel.
Green waste includes tree trimmings, palm fronds, grass clippings, manure, mulch and compost. If green material is left in piles, over time, under certain conditions, there is a high potential that it can generate enough heat as the material decomposes to create fires.
Land owners are responsible for green waste applied to or found on their land. County officials urge affected landowners to take active steps to prevent the dumping of green waste on their land and, if material is found, to remove it as soon as possible by taking it to a permitted facility that accepts green waste. Large piles should be spread to a height of no more than 12 inches to immediately reduce the fire risk, while steps are taken for proper disposal at a permitted facility.
Further, the county is asking that landscaping firms and owners of properties that generate large amounts of green waste make sure that the green waste that they generate is properly disposed of at a permitted facility.
For information in English and Spanish on fire prevention and a list of permitted disposal sites for green waste, view the attached brochures or visit the Riverside County Department of Environmental Health Web page at http://rivcoeh.org/Forms/Guidance#waste.
To date, 33 parcels have been referred to the taskforce for investigation. Of the 33 identified properties, 11 have been found in violation and issued notices of violation, six are in pre litigation, 10 were inspected and found not to be in violation, with the remainder scheduled for initial inspection. As a result of the county taskforce’s proactive work, clean-up efforts are under way on several properties.
To refer a property to the taskforce for inspection, contact the Riverside County Code Enforcement Department at 760-393-3344.