FAIRFIELD — A strip of land between an Interstate 80 sound wall and the backyards of homes burned in the Marigold Drive fire has become the topic of controversy.
Some of the fire victims say the strip about 50 feet wide had brush and wasn’t maintained. That raised the questions of who owned the strip and who was responsible for maintaining it – questions that, as it turns out, appear to have different answers.
Fairfield officials on Friday were still looking into the matter. The Tuesday afternoon fire left five homes uninhabitable and 10 more damaged.
The issue of ownership proved relatively simple to determine. Fairfield Public Works Director George Hicks on Friday said that the property belongs to the homeowners, though he noted they may be unaware of their ownership. The strip is separated from the backyards by a chain-link fence a few feet high.
“Some people realize they own it,” Hicks said. “Some people swear they don’t.”
But the issue is more complicated because of a drainage easement that ran over the property. In addition, responsibility for maintenance seems to have shifted over the years.
“It’s a very unusual situation,” Hicks said.
The strip of land at one time had a ditch to drain water. Hicks said Fairfield from 1976 to 1990 maintained the easement area.
That responsibility ended in 1990, he said. The reason was the Fairfield-Suisun Flood Control Project, also called Fairfield Streams. The $37 million project, 30 years in the making, consisted of a series of canals designed to end flooding problems in a 25-square-mile area of Fairfield and Suisun City.
The flood drainage ditch got filled in after Fairfield Streams. The strip of land remained separated from the backyards of the homes by a chain-link fence. Hicks as of Friday wasn’t certain what happened with the maintenance responsibilities after 1990.
Lei Lonnie Christeson has lived on Marigold Drive for about 25 years. Her fence and a shed got burned in Tuesday’s fire, but not her house.
Christeson recalled getting a letter about 22 years ago from a state water agency saying that it would be filling in the drainage canal. The agency also said it would be maintaining the easement and that it couldn’t guarantee that anything planted back there wouldn’t get damaged. It would also have to retain access to the other segments of the easement.
“That’s the reason none of us took the property line back,” she said.
Christeson on Friday said she would look to see if she had kept the letter. But, she said, maintenance continued until 2007.
“They were noisy, but they got it done,” Christeson said.
Meanwhile, Fairfield as of Friday has yet to name a cause for the fire. The fire began at 3:40 p.m. Tuesday along Interstate 80 on a windy afternoon.
Fairfield Fire Battalion Chief Bob Stoffel said the county fire investigation team will produce a report. If a point of origin is found, investigators can map out where the fire went and how it got over the sound wall to the homes.
But the sound wall would seem to offer little protection from a fire. Fairfield Fire Battalion Chief Matt Luckenbach said sparks could have gone over the wall of 10 feet or higher.
Also, he said, the wall is not continuous, but has some breaks between the concrete panels. In addition, it has holes in places from automobile accidents.
Meanwhile, the Solano Community Support Coalition continues to do its work. This is a group of churches, nonprofits, business owners and health and service providers working with the local arm of the American Red Cross to help the Marigold Drive fire victims.
Marilyn Ojeda of the group said Friday she has gotten dozens of calls from people who want to donate items. Items range from gift cards to stuffed animals to clothes to homemade blankets for children.
But the group is being specific about the items it takes, she said. For example, she said, it is trying to get the size of clothes that the victims need. The victims don’t yet need such items as furniture.
Fire victims and those who want to donate can call Ojeda at 208-4101. People can go to www.missionsolano.org to donate money for the Marigold Drive fire victims.
Benicia Grill at 2390 N. Texas St. announced Friday it is offering free meals to fire victims who come with identification. Call 638-7799 for more information.
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.