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Legal Requirements

California State Codes Relevant to Defensible Space

CA Public Resources Code 4291. (a) A person who owns, leases, controls, operates, or maintains a building or structure in, upon, or adjoining a mountainous area, forest-covered lands, brush-covered lands, grass-covered lands, or land that is covered with flammable material, shall at all times do all of the following:

(1) Maintain defensible space no greater than 100 feet from each side of the structure, but not beyond the property line unless allowed by state law, local ordinance, or regulation and as provided in paragraph (2). The amount of fuel modification necessary shall take into account the flammability of the structure as affected by building material, building standards, location, and type of vegetation. Fuels shall be maintained in a condition so that a wildfire burning under average weather conditions would be unlikely to ignite the structure. This paragraph does not apply to single specimens of trees or other vegetation that are well-pruned and maintained so as to effectively manage fuels and not form a means of rapidly transmitting fire from other nearby vegetation to a structure or from a structure to other nearby vegetation. The intensity of fuels management may vary within the 100-foot perimeter of the structure, the most intense being within the first 30 feet around the structure. Consistent with fuels management objectives, steps should be taken to minimize erosion.

(2) A greater distance than that required under paragraph (1) may be required by state law, local ordinance, rule, or regulation. Clearance beyond the property line may only be required if the state law, local ordinance, rule, or regulation includes findings that such a clearing is necessary to significantly reduce the risk of transmission of flame or heat sufficient to ignite the structure, and there is no other feasible mitigation measure possible to reduce the risk of ignition or spread of wildfire to the structure. Clearance on adjacent property shall only be conducted following written consent by the adjacent landowner.

(3) An insurance company that insures an occupied dwelling or occupied structure may require a greater distance than that required under paragraph (1) if a fire expert, designated by the director, provides findings that such a clearing is necessary to significantly reduce the risk of transmission of flame or heat sufficient to ignite the structure, and there is no other feasible mitigation measure possible to reduce the risk of ignition or spread of wildfire to the structure. The greater distance may not be beyond the property line unless allowed by state law, local ordinance, rule, or regulation.

(4) Remove that portion of any tree that extends within 10 feet of the outlet of a chimney or stovepipe.

(5) Maintain any tree, shrub, or other plant adjacent to or overhanging a building free of dead or dying wood.

(6) Maintain the roof of a structure free of leaves, needles, or other vegetative materials.

(7) (a) Prior to constructing a new building or structure or rebuilding a building or structure damaged by a fire in an area subject to this section, the construction or rebuilding of which requires a building permit, the owner shall obtain a certification from the local building official that the dwelling or structure, as proposed to be built, complies with all applicable state and local building standards, including those described in subdivision (b) of Section 51189 of the Government Code, and shall provide a copy of the certification, upon request, to the insurer providing course of construction insurance coverage for the building or structure. Upon completion of the construction or rebuilding, the owner shall obtain from the local building official, a copy of the final inspection report that demonstrates that the dwelling or structure was constructed in compliance with all applicable state and local building standards, including those described in subdivision (b) of Section 51189 of the Government Code, and shall provide a copy of the report, upon request, to the property insurance carrier that insures the dwelling or structure.

(b) A person is not required under this section to manage fuels on land if that person does not have the legal right to manage fuels, nor is a person required to enter upon or to alter property that is owned by any other person without the consent of the owner of the property.

(c) (1) Except as provided in Section 18930 of the Health and Safety Code, the director may adopt regulations exempting a structure with an exterior constructed entirely of nonflammable materials, or, conditioned upon the contents and composition of the structure, the director may vary the requirements respecting the removing or clearing away of flammable vegetation or other combustible growth with respect to the area surrounding those structures.

(2) An exemption or variance under paragraph (1) shall not apply unless and until the occupant of the structure, or if there is not an occupant, the owner of the structure, files with the department, in a form as the director shall prescribe, a written consent to the inspection of the interior and contents of the structure to ascertain whether this section and the regulations adopted under this section

are complied with at all times.

(d) The director may authorize the removal of vegetation that is not consistent with the standards of this section. The director may prescribe a procedure for the removal of that vegetation and make the expense a lien upon the building, structure, or grounds, in the same manner that is applicable to a legislative body under Section 51186 of the Government Code.

(e) The Department of Forestry and Fire Protection shall develop, periodically update, and post on its Internet Web site a guidance document on fuels management pursuant to this chapter. Guidance shall include, but not be limited to, regionally appropriate vegetation management suggestions that preserve and restore native species, minimize erosion, minimize water consumption, and permit trees near homes for shade, aesthetics, and habitat; and suggestions to minimize or eliminate the risk of flammability of nonvegetative sources of

combustion such as woodpiles, propane tanks, wood decks, and outdoor lawn furniture.

(f) As used in this section, "person" means a private individual, organization, partnership, limited liability company, or corporation.


CA Public Resources Code 4291.1. (a) Notwithstanding Section 4021, a violation of Section 4291 is an infraction punishable by a fine of not less than one hundred dollars ($100), nor more than five hundred dollars ($500).

If a person is convicted of a second violation of Section 4291 within five years, that person shall be punished by a fine of not less than two hundred fifty dollars ($250), nor more than five hundred dollars ($500). If a person is convicted of a third violation of Section 4291 within five years, that person is guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be punished by a fine of not less than five hundred dollars ($500). If a person is convicted of a third violation of Section 4291 within five years, the department may perform or contract for the performance of work necessary to comply with Section 4291 and may bill the person convicted for the costs incurred, in which case the person convicted, upon payment of those costs, shall not be required to pay the fine. If a person convicted of a violation of section 4291 is granted probation, the court shall impose as a term or condition of probation, in addition to any other term or condition of probation, that the person pay at least the minimum fine prescribed in this section.

(b) If a person convicted of a violation of Section 4291 produces in court verification prior to imposition of a fine by the court, that the condition resulting in the citation no longer exists, the court may reduce the fine imposed for the violation of Section 4291 to fifty dollars ($50).


CA Public Resources Code 4291.3. Subject to any other applicable provision of law, a state or local fire official, at his or her discretion, may authorize an owner of property, or his or her agent, to construct a firebreak, or implement appropriate vegetation management techniques, to ensure that defensible space is adequate for the protection of a hospital, adult residential care facility, school, aboveground storage tank, hazardous materials facility, or similar facility on the property.

The firebreak may be for a radius of up to 300 feet from the facility, or to the property line, whichever distance is shorter.


CA Public Resources Code 4292. Except as otherwise provided in Section 4296, any person that owns, controls, operates, or maintains any electrical transmission or distribution line upon any mountainous land, or forest-covered land, brush-covered land, or grass-covered land shall, during such times and in such areas as are determined to be necessary by the director or the agency which has primary responsibility for fire protection of such areas, maintain around and adjacent to any pole or

tower which supports a switch, fuse, transformer, lightning arrester, line junction, or dead end or corner pole, a firebreak which consists of a clearing of not less than 10 feet in each direction from the outer circumference of such pole or tower. This section does not, however, apply to any line which is used exclusively as telephone, telegraph, telephone or telegraph messenger call, fire or alarm line, or other line which is classed as a communication circuit by the Public Utilities Commission. The director or the agency which has primary fire protection responsibility for the protection of such areas may permit exceptions from the requirements of this section which are based upon the specific circumstances involved.


CA Public Resources Code 4021. Except as otherwise provided, the willful or negligent commission of any of the acts prohibited or the omission of any of the acts required by Chapter 2 (commencing with Section 4251) to Chapter 6 (commencing with Section 4411), inclusive, of Part 2 of this division is a misdemeanor.


CA Health and Safety Code 18930. (a) Any building standard adopted or proposed by state agencies shall be submitted to, and approved or adopted by, the California Building Standards Commission prior to codification. Prior to submission to the commission, building standards shall be adopted in compliance with the procedures specified in Article 5 (commencing with Section 11346) of Chapter 3.5 of Part 1 of Division 3 of Title 2 of the Government Code. Building standards adopted by state agencies and submitted to the commission for approval shall be accompanied by an analysis written by the adopting agency or state agency that proposes the building standards which shall, to the satisfaction of the commission, justify the approval thereof in terms of the following criteria:

(1) The proposed building standards do not conflict with, overlap, or duplicate other building standards.

(2) The proposed building standard is within the parameters established by enabling legislation and is not expressly within the exclusive jurisdiction of another agency.

(3) The public interest requires the adoption of the building standards.

(4) The proposed building standard is not unreasonable, arbitrary, unfair, or capricious, in whole or in part.

(5) The cost to the public is reasonable, based on the overall benefit to be derived from the building standards.

(6) The proposed building standard is not unnecessarily ambiguous or vague, in whole or in part.

(7) The applicable national specifications, published standards, and model codes have been incorporated therein as provided in this part, where appropriate.

(A) If a national specification, published standard, or model code does not adequately address the goals of the state agency, a statement defining the inadequacy shall accompany the proposed building standard when submitted to the commission.

(B) If there is no national specification, published standard, or model code that is relevant to the proposed building standard, the state agency shall prepare a statement informing the commission and submit that statement with the proposed building standard.

(8) The format of the proposed building standards is consistent with that adopted by the commission.

(9) The proposed building standard, if it promotes fire and panic safety, as determined by the State Fire Marshal, has the written approval of the State Fire Marshal.

(b) In reviewing building standards submitted for its approval, the commission shall consider only the record of the proceedings of the adopting agency, except as provided in subdivision (b) of Section 11359 of the Government Code.

(c) Where the commission is the adopting agency, it shall consider the record submitted to, and considered by, the state agency that proposes the building standards and the record of public comment that results from the commission's adoption of proposed regulations.

(d) (1) The commission shall give great weight to the determinations and analysis of the adopting agency or state agency that proposes the building standards on each of the criteria for approval set forth in subdivision (a). Any factual determinations of the adopting agency or state agency that proposes the building standards shall be considered conclusive by the commission unless the

commission specifically finds, and sets forth its reasoning in writing, that the factual determination is arbitrary and capricious or substantially unsupported by the evidence considered by the adopting agency or state agency that proposes the building standards. (2) Whenever the commission makes a finding, as described in this subdivision, it shall return the standard to the adopting agency or state agency that proposes the building standards for a reexamination

of its original determination of the disputed fact.

(e) Whenever a building standard is principally intended to protect the public health and safety, its adoption shall not be a "factual determination" for purposes of subdivision (d). Whenever a building standard is principally intended to conserve energy or other natural resources, the commission shall consider or review the cost to the public or benefit to be derived as a "factual determination"

pursuant to subdivision (d). Whenever a building standard promotes fire and panic safety, each agency shall, unless adopted by the State Fire Marshal, submit the building standard to the State Fire Marshal for prior approval.

(f) Whenever the commission finds, pursuant to paragraph (2) of subdivision (a), that a building standard is adopted by an adopting agency pursuant to statutes requiring adoption of the building standard, the commission shall not consider or review whether the adoption is in the public interest pursuant to paragraph (3) of subdivision (a).


CA Government Code 51177. As used in this chapter:

(a) "Defensible space" means the area adjacent to a structure or dwelling where wildfire prevention or protection practices are implemented to provide defense from an approaching wildfire or to minimize the spread of a structure fire to wildlands or surrounding areas.

(b) "Director" means the Director of Forestry and Fire Protection.

(c) "Fuel" means any combustible material, especially petroleum-based products and wildland fuels.

(d) "Fuel management" means the act or practice of controlling flammability and reducing resistance to control of fuels through mechanical, chemical, biological, or manual means or by fire, in support of land management objectives.

(e) "Local agency" means a city, county, city and county, or district responsible for fire protection within a very high fire hazard severity zone.

(f) "Single specimen tree" means any live tree that stands alone in the landscape so as to be clear of buildings, structures, combustible vegetation, or other trees, and that does not form a means of rapidly transmitting fire from the vegetation to an occupied dwelling or structure or from an occupied dwelling or structure to vegetation.

(g) "State responsibility areas" means those areas identified pursuant to Section 4102 of the Public Resources Code.

(h) "Vegetation" means all plants, including trees, shrubs, grass, and perennial or annual plants.

(i) "Very high fire hazard severity zone" means an area designated by the director pursuant to Section 51178 that is not a state responsibility area.

(j) "Wildfire" means an unplanned, unwanted wildland fire, including unauthorized human-caused fires, escaped wildland fire use events, escaped prescribed fire projects, and all other wildland fires where the objective is to extinguish the fire.


CA Government Code 51178. The director shall identify areas in the state as very high fire hazard severity zones based on consistent statewide criteria and

based on the severity of fire hazard that is expected to prevail in those areas. Very high fire hazard severity zones shall be based on fuel loading, slope, fire weather, and other relevant factors including areas where Santa Ana, Mono, and Diablo winds have been identified by the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection as a major cause of wildfire spread.


CA Government Code 51179. (a) A local agency shall designate, by ordinance, very high fire hazard severity zones in its jurisdiction within 120 days of receiving recommendations from the director pursuant to subdivisions (b) and (c) of Section 51178. A local agency shall be exempt from this requirement if ordinances of the local agency, adopted on or before December 31, 1992, impose standards that are equivalent to, or more restrictive than, the standards imposed by this chapter.

(b) A local agency may, at its discretion, exclude from the requirements of Section 51182 an area identified as a very high fire hazard severity zone by the director within the jurisdiction of the local agency, following a finding supported by substantial evidence in the record that the requirements of Section 51182 are not necessary for effective fire protection within the area.

(c) A local agency may, at its discretion, include areas within the jurisdiction of the local agency, not identified as very high fire hazard severity zones by the director, as very high fire hazard severity zones following a finding supported by substantial evidence in the record that the requirements of Section 51182 are necessary for effective fire protection within the area.

(d) Changes made by a local agency to the recommendations made by the director shall be final and shall not be rebuttable by the director.

(e) The State Fire Marshal shall prepare and adopt a model ordinance that provides for the establishment of very high fire hazard severity zones.

(f) Any ordinance adopted by a local agency pursuant to this section that substantially conforms to the model ordinance of the State Fire Marshal shall be presumed to be in compliance with the requirements of this section.

(g) A local agency shall post a notice at the office of the county recorder, county assessor, and county planning agency identifying the location of the map provided by the director pursuant to Section 51178. If the agency amends the map, pursuant to subdivision (b) or (c) of this section, the notice shall instead identify the location of the amended map.


CA Government Code 51182. (a) A person who owns, leases, controls, operates, or maintains an occupied dwelling or occupied structure in, upon, or adjoining any mountainous area, forest-covered land, brush-covered land, grass-covered land, or any land that is covered with flammable material, which area or land is within a very high fire hazard severity zone designated by the local agency pursuant to Section 51179, shall at all times do all of the following:

(1) Maintain defensible space no greater than 100 feet from each side of the structure, but not beyond the property line unless allowed by state law, local ordinance, or regulation and as provided in paragraph (2). The amount of fuel modification necessary shall take into account the flammability of the structure as affected by building material, building standards, location, and type of vegetation. Fuels shall be maintained in a condition so that a wildfire burning under average weather conditions would be unlikely to ignite the structure. This paragraph does not apply to single specimens of trees or other vegetation that are well-pruned and maintained so as to effectively manage fuels and not form a means of rapidly transmitting fire from other nearby vegetation to a structure

or from a structure to other nearby vegetation. The intensity of fuels management may vary within the 100-foot perimeter of the structure, the most intense being within the first 30 feet around the structure. Consistent with fuels management objectives, steps should be taken to minimize erosion.

(2) A greater distance than that required under paragraph (1) may be required by state law, local ordinance, rule, or regulation. Clearance beyond the property line may only be required if the state law, local ordinance, rule, or regulation includes findings that such a clearing is necessary to significantly reduce the risk of transmission of flame or heat sufficient to ignite the structure, and there is no other feasible mitigation measure possible to reduce the risk of ignition or spread of wildfire to the structure. Clearance on adjacent property shall only be conducted following written consent by the adjacent landowner.

(3) An insurance company that insures an occupied dwelling or occupied structure may require a greater distance than that required under paragraph (1) if a fire expert, designated by the fire chief or fire official from the authority having jurisdiction, provides findings that such a clearing is necessary to significantly reduce the risk of transmission of flame or heat sufficient to ignite the structure, and there is no other feasible mitigation measure possible

to reduce the risk of ignition or spread of wildfire to the structure. The greater distance may not be beyond the property line unless allowed by state law, local ordinance, rule, or regulation.

(4) Remove that portion of any tree that extends within 10 feet of the outlet of any chimney or stovepipe.

(5) Maintain any tree, shrub, or other plant adjacent to or overhanging any building free of dead or dying wood.

(6) Maintain the roof of any structure free of leaves, needles, or other vegetative materials.

(7) Prior to constructing a new dwelling or structure that will be occupied or rebuilding an occupied dwelling or occupied structure damaged by a fire in that zone, the construction or rebuilding of which requires a building permit, the owner shall obtain a certification from the local building official that the dwelling or structure, as proposed to be built, complies with all applicable state and local building standards, including those described in subdivision (b) of Section 51189, and shall provide a copy of the certification, upon request, to the insurer providing course of construction insurance coverage for the building or structure. Upon completion of the construction or rebuilding, the owner shall obtain from the local building official, a copy of the final inspection report that demonstrates that the dwelling or structure was constructed in compliance with all applicable state and local building standards, including those described in subdivision (b) of

Section 51189, and shall provide a copy of the report, upon request, to the property insurance carrier that insures the dwelling or structure.

(b) A person is not required under this section to manage fuels on land if that person does not have the legal right to manage fuels, nor is a person required to enter upon or to alter property that is owned by any other person without the consent of the owner of the property.

(c) The Department of Forestry and Fire Protection shall develop, periodically update, and post on its Internet Web site a guidance document on fuels management pursuant to this chapter. Guidance shall include, but not be limited to, regionally appropriate vegetation management suggestions that preserve and restore native species, minimize erosion, minimize water consumption, and permit trees near homes for shade, aesthetics, and habitat; and suggestions to minimize or eliminate the risk of flammability of nonvegetative sources of combustion such as woodpiles, propane tanks, wood decks, and outdoor lawn furniture.


CA Government Code 51186. The local agency having jurisdiction of property upon which conditions regulated by Section 51182 are being violated shall notify

the owner of the property to correct the conditions. If the owner fails to correct the conditions, the local agency may cause the corrections to be made, and the expenses incurred shall become a lien on the property that is the subject of the corrections when recorded in the county recorder's office in the county in which the real property is located. The priority of the lien shall be as of the date of recording. The lien shall contain the legal description of the real property, the assessor's parcel number, and the name of the owner of record as shown on the latest equalized assessment roll.


CA Government Code 51189. (a) The Legislature finds and declares that site and

structure defensibility is essential to reduce the risk of structure ignition as well as for effective fire suppression by firefighters. This need to establish defensibility extends beyond the site fuel management practices required by this chapter, and includes, but is not limited to, measures that increase the likelihood of a structure to withstand ignition, such as building design and construction

requirements that use fire resistant building materials, and provide standards for reducing fire risks on structure projections, including, but not limited to, porches, decks, balconies and eaves, and structure openings, including, but not limited to, attic, foundation, and eave vents, doors, and windows.

(b) No later than January 1, 2005, the State Fire Marshal, in consultation with the Director of Forestry and Fire Protection and the Director of Housing and Community Development, shall, pursuant to Section 18930 of the Health and Safety Code, recommend building standards that provide for comprehensive site and structure fire risk reduction to protect structures from fires spreading from adjacent structures or vegetation and to protect vegetation from fires spreading from adjacent structures.


CA Government Code 51180. For the purposes of Division 3.6 (commencing with Section 810) of Title 1, vegetation removal or management, undertaken in whole or in part, for fire prevention or suppression purposes shall not be deemed to alter the natural condition of public property. This section shall apply only to natural conditions of public property and shall not limit any liability or immunity that may otherwise exist pursuant to this chapter.


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