It's been 21 years since the Oakland firestorm. Ever since the October disaster, annual inspection notices go out like clockwork. They go out, but does anyone follow through to see that homeowners comply? Sadly, it seems to be no.

I'll cite my own case, since I know firsthand the frustrations of working with a city that is "fiscally challenged." Each year, the vacant property next to my house sets new records for weed growth. It's as if someone is fertilizing the brush as a cash crop, yet never reaping the yield. The fire department comes, cites the absentee owners and moves on.

For my part, I start making calls in midsummer, sometimes two or three phone calls a week. Voice mail takes the complaints, and where they go from there is anyone's guess. It is now mid-November, and I'm thinking of hanging holiday lights on the Scotch broom, if I can reach the high branches. And the Oakland Fire Prevention Bureau takes a long winter's nap until the next set of notices goes out in the spring.

Email bag: Speaking of gripes, reader Richard Schwarz has a beef with noise pollution. He says emergency paramedic vehicles routinely scream up and down Park Boulevard, sirens blaring, even on Sunday mornings before 8:30 when there's virtually no traffic. It's understood that there are several nursing homes in the area, but "one siren should be plenty," he writes, "rather than going for broke ..."

Helping hand: When Mel and Tiffany Copland aren't selling homes, they're working on them. The local Alain Pinel Realtors are helping to build a new addition on the home of an Orinda high school student who was injured when a sand tunnel collapsed on him. Ryan Buchanan has been in a vegetative state since the June 2011 accident, and Project Ryan's Wing is bringing together folks to retool the home so Ryan can live there. If you'd like to help, see www.projectryanswing.org.

In remembrance: Readers are mourning the passing of a great Oakland neighbor and volunteer. Roger Brett died Oct. 28 at the age of 68. He was a tireless advocate for the Chabot Space & Science Center and did so much for his own neighborhood; residents dedicated a "pocket park" in his honor. He leaves behind many friends and his high school sweetheart and wife of 46 years, Korki Bennett.

"Souper" bowl: It's a busy time of year for readers John and Maggie Kinstle, who send out some 300 invitations for their annual soup party. The idea started as a way to meet new neighbors and has grown into a competition to see who can make the best crock of comfort food. It's also a way for Maggie to show off the paintings she's created during the year -- "kind of an open studio plus soups," she says.

Got news? You can reach Ginny Prior by phone at 510-723-2525, by email at ginnyprior@hotmail.com or on the web at www.ginnyprior.com.