By Wilson Walker

MILL VALLEY (KPIX 5) — Like many cities across California, Mill Valley is taking a hard look at its fire safety protocols, and that could mean significant changes for some homeowners.

“A little piece of heaven isn’t it,” asked Esti Skloot, standing in the lush forest that surrounds her home. Tucked on a hillside, surrounded by nature, Skloot came to Mill Valley in 1974 exactly because of what surrounds this house. And she knows that this hill hasn’t burned in nearly a century.

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“I understand, and I know people are worried because of all the fires,” she said. “It is scary.”

That fear has Mill Valley leaders considering tightened rules for greater safety.  “We’ve seen fires become far more destructive in the last five years,” explained Battalion Chief Michael St. John of the Mill Valley Fire Department. ”We need to do more.”

In Mill Valley’s case, more could very well be new rules for homeowners, starting with what can grow in the immediate area around a home. “That would prohibit having bamboo, Acacia, Manzanita, and Cyprus within 30 feet of structures,” St. John said, outlining the proposed guidelines.

They would also apply to Eucalyptus trees, another tree known to be particularly vulnerable to fire.

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Another rule would require significant hardening of the space within arms reach of homes. “We’re also going to ask people to have 3 feet of hardscape around their home,” St. John said. “We will allow irrigated succulents, But other than that it’s got to be sand, gravel, slate, we don’t care what it is.”

For some homeowners, this would obviously mean a lot of work, and there will no doubt be mixed feelings, especially up in the Mill Valley hills. “I understand Eucalyptus,” said Skloot. “If they’re on top of my house I would have them cut down.”

Skloot added this is the kind of thing she and her husband disagree on, but for her, the risk is balanced against what drew her to Mill Valley. “So I figure people don’t want to raze and are really afraid of living in nature should live down in the flats.”

The specifics of the plan are still being developed with the input of citizens. Any new ordinance would require approval of the Mill Valley City Council.

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