August 26, 2001 11:00 pm

By The Observer

The house fire in La Grande Aug. 18 could remind some citizens of the need to cut down their weeds.

Police said the fire was started by kids playing with fireworks near the house, which had a large field of grass in back.

There are more than 80 lots now in the process of forced abatement of tall grass.

We have 53 different complaints against individual residences, and there is a three-block alley involving 30 lots were looking at, said Lois Rieke, who is in charge of enforcing the law for the fire department.

There are three cases that will go to the next city council meeting for approval to place liens on the properties where the city had to have the weeds cut, she said.

No one is permitted by law to let weeds grow that are a fire hazard, a traffic hazard or a health hazard.

A city ordinance requires a property owner to cut down or otherwise destroy noxious vegetation as often as needed to prevent such vegetation from becoming a fire, health or traffic safety hazard or going to seed, reads the weed ordinance.

The law applies to any non-ornamental grasses more than 10 inches tall that are not part of a managed landscape design as approved by the city.

The fire department has the authority to enforce the law by contracting to have the weeds cut down and having a lien placed against the property owners if the owner does not pay for the service.

We go out and inspect to make sure each complaint is justified, said Rieke, then we send the owner a notice. He has 10 days to respond or we order the grass cut.

We havent gone out to look for overgrown lots, she said.

The department wont go out and patrol now, she said, but if a firefighter driving around sees a violation, he can report it to her. This is a change from previous policy.

On bigger lots, such as where horses are boarded and graze, we ask the owners to have a defensible space buffer. And we required grasses that are cut to be removed.

Rieke said there had been no complaints issued on the 2.12 acres where the house burned Aug. 18. The yard around the house had been cut but not the tall grass on the west end of the property, she said.