Thirty-four people signed a letter asking the city of Oak Harbor to do something to address their concerns about the massive woodpiles and dry grass left on a real estate developer’s property on the hill overlooking Safeway.
Joe Cardinal, a resident of the Harborview Mobile Home Park on Highway 20, submitted a public comment to the Oak Harbor City Council meeting last week that referenced his petition.
Cardinal said he is concerned about spontaneous combustion among the handful of large woodpiles and tall grasses sitting on real estate developer Scott Thompson’s property.
The petition asked city hall and the owners to mow the “newly denuded (what used to be woods) woods” before a wildfire can “engulf the field.” It claimed that the wind regularly blows in the direction of the mobile home park and could lead to a devastating fire.
After Cardinal’s public comment was shown during Tuesday night’s meeting, Councilmember Tara Hizon asked Oak Harbor Fire Chief Ray Merrill what has been done to address the group’s fears.
Merrill said he had asked Thompson to cut a 72-inch fire break between his property and the mobile home park, which the developer completed. However, cutting the grass now could result in the opposite of what the groups want because the mower could hit a rock and spark a flame.
“It’s kind of a double-edged sword,” Merrill said.
Chipping the large woodpiles may not be the safest option right now, either.
Merrill explained that woodchips decompose faster than the logs and stumps currently piled there. Their decomposition could create spontaneous heating and give way to a fire. Large wood pieces don’t pose the same threat, he said. Merrill corrected the group’s idea that the wind would blow a fire towards them, saying that the prevailing wind is from the south-southwest.
If a fire were to occur, the wind should blow it away from the mobile home park “99% of the time,” he said.
The fire chief said he was concerned about the fire danger and has someone check the area “at least three times a week.”
Thompson said he has plans to recycle the wood debris into mulch and woodchips for landscaping in the 192-lot development.
He said he “didn’t know” when the big piles would be gone because he wanted to have a model home permit from the city before he gets started on making woodchips. He said he thought he would have had that permit in April.
“Would I have done it differently if I’d known I’d have lost this season? Probably,” he said.
The grasses are for erosion control as required by another permit, he added. He understood the group’s concern but questioned why the residents did not contact him first.
Cardinal admitted he had not thought to contact the developer but hopes more can be done.
“We’ve got some nervous senior citizens up here,” Cardinal said, adding that both of his neighbors are in their 90s.
“They’re being irresponsible — this stuff has been there for at least a year,” he said of the piles of wood and debris crews gathered from clearing the property.
“They’re surrounded by tinder-dry grasses,” he said. “Also, it’s just really ugly.”