Defensible Space

What is Defensible Space?

Defensible Space is the buffer around a home or structure that helps protect from heat, flames, and embers during a wildfire.  By maintaining vegetation and combustibles in this area, property owners reduce the likelihood that their home will ignite during a fire.  Maintaining Defensible Space for 30-150' around all structures is REQUIRED BY LAW for all homes in Marin's (and California's) Wildland Urban Interface (WUI).

Defensible space will slow or stop the spread of wildfire and protect your home from catching fire – either from direct flame contact or radiant heat.  Defensible space is also important to help protect firefighters when they are defending your home. 

Your home may be the most valuable investment you ever make.  If you live in the WUI, protect against the chance of losing that investment by creating defensible space and using fire-resistant construction materials and techniques.  Creating an area of defensible space does not mean you need a ring of bare dirt around your home. Through proper planning, you can have both a beautiful landscape and a fire resistant home.

Defensible Space Inspections in Kentfield

thumb 2018 dspace inspection form

Did you receive a NOTICE OF DEFENSIBLE SPACE INSPECTION?  If you received a notice, you may have questions about the meaning of the different requirements and specific hazards noted.  Use the list below and click on an item to learn more about specific violations and requirements.

FAQS


 VIOLATION CATEGORIES

Inspectors check boxes to indicate violations observed during inspections.  Please select any boxes that were checked on the Hazard Notice left at your home to learn more about how to correct the violation.

  1. Remove all branches within 10’ of any chimney or stovepipe outlet.
  2. Remove all leaves, needles and dead vegetation on roofs, gutters, decks, porches, stairways, etc.
  3. Remove all dead and dying trees, branches, shrubs, and plants adjacent to buildings or overhanging roofs.
  4. Remove all dead grass, plants, shrubs, trees, branches, leaves, weeds and needles within 30’ of structures.
  5. Remove or separate live combustible ground cover and shrubs within 30’ of structures.
  6. Remove combustible vegetation and materials, on, adjacent to, or below combustible decks, balconies, stairs.
  7. Relocate exposed firewood or lumber outside of zone 1 unless covered in a fire resistive material.
  8. Cut annual grasses and forbs (weeds) to a maximum of 4” in height.
  9. Provide separation between shrubs and trees, with increased separation on slopes.
  10. Cut and remove all pyrophytic combustible vegetation within 30’ of structures.
  11. Remove all piles of accumulated dead vegetation on the property.
  12. Remove tree limbs and growth less than 3” diameter to 10’ above ground (or 1/3 the tree's height).
  13. Vegetation clearance adjacent to roads and/or driveways must be maintained 10’ horizontally and 14’ vertically.
  14. Address numbers must be 4” minimum, displayed in contrasting colors, and readable from the street.
  15. Equip all chimney or stovepipe openings with a metal screen having openings between 3/8” and 1/2”.
  16. Logs or stumps embedded in soil must be removed or isolated from vegetation within 100' of structures.
  17. Outbuildings & Propane (LPG) tanks must have 10’ of clearance to bare mineral soil.

PYROPHYTIC PLANTS

Inspectors may note the presence of specific species of "pyrophytic" (or "fire-prone") plants present within 30' of structures or 10' of roads and driveways on your property.  Section 4907.2 of the California Fire Code, as amended and adopted by your fire agency, requires removal of pyrophytic, combustible vegetation within 30' of structures and/or 10’ of roads or driveways.  

See FIRESafe MARIN's list of fire-prone plants in Marin.

What should I do?
Please remove these plans and replace with a fire resistant species.  If the removal creates a hardship, please contact us for assistance - in some cases, we can help you modify vegetation or create a plan to remove and replace vegetation over time

1. REMOVE ALL BRANCHES WITHIN 10’ OF ANY CHIMNEY OR STOVEPIPE OUTLET. 

Inspectors noted a tree limb or shrub(s) that are too close to your chimney.

What should I do?
Please cut back limbs with foliage that are within 10' of a chimney outlet.  Limbs must be cut back even if you don't plan to use the fireplace, or if you have a gas stove or insert.  Contact us if removing the limb would cause harm to the structure or health of the tree.

Fire Code Reference
[2016 CFC §4907.2, PRC §4291(a)(4)]

2. REMOVE ALL LEAVES, NEEDLES AND DEAD VEGETATION ON ROOFS, GUTTERS, DECKS, PORCHES, STAIRWAYS, ETC. 

Inspectors observed leaves and needles on your roof or rain gutters, or on decks, porches, and outdoor stairs.  This is the most significant hazard found on most homes, and is the most likely source of ignition during a wildfire.  Even one handful of leaves or needles may be enough to burn your home down.

What should I do?
Please regularly remove fallen leaves, needles, twigs, and other dead vegetation from your roof, rain gutters, decks, proches, exterior stairs, and from around the base of exterior walls.

Fire Code Reference
[2016 CFC §4907.2, PRC §4291(a)(6)] 

3. REMOVE ALL DEAD AND DYING TREES, BRANCHES, SHRUBS, AND PLANTS ADJACENT TO BUILDINGS OR OVERHANGING ROOFS. 

Inspectors observed dead trees, branches, shrubs or plants adjacent to a structure or overhanging a roof.  This may be your home, decks, or an accessory structure like a garage, cottage, shed, or play structure.

What should I do?
Please remove any dead vegetation immediately adjacent to or overhanging structures on your property (typically within 5-10 feet).  Look for dead limbs in trees and dead shrubs.  Some shrubs may have dead woody vegetation beneath a visible layer of green foliage.  

Fire Code Reference
[2016 CFC §4907.2]

 4. REMOVE ALL DEAD GRASS, PLANTS, SHRUBS, TREES, BRANCHES, LEAVES, WEEDS AND NEEDLES WITHIN 30’ OF STRUCTURES. 

Inspectors observed dead vegetation within 30' of structures.

What should I do?
Please remove any dead vegetation within 30' of structures.  Look for dead grasses, shrubs, landscaping plants or bnative vegetation.  Some shrubs may have dead woody vegetation beneath a visible layer of green foliage.  This may include fallen limbs and leaves.

Fire Code Reference
[2016 CFC §4907.2]

5. REMOVE OR SEPARATE LIVE COMBUSTIBLE GROUND COVER AND SHRUBS WITHIN 30’ OF STRUCTURES. 

Some live plants can burn (see pyrophytic plants) or even fire-resistant plant species if they are not adequately maintained and irigated.  Inspectors observed LIVE plants in a combustible state near your home.

What should I do?
Please remove or add separation betwen shrubs to prevent fire from spreading between individual plants.  This may require pruning shrubs or removal when plantings are dense or close together.  This often refers to plants such as juniper, rosemary, some ornamental grasses, bamboo, and other combustible species.  See www, firesafemarin.org/plants for details on fire hazardous plants.

Fire Code Reference
[2016 CFC 4907.2.  SRA areas: PRC §4291(a)(1) and BOF Guidelines #1.]

6. REMOVE COMBUSTIBLE VEGETATION AND MATERIALS, ON, ADJACENT TO, OR BELOW COMBUSTIBLE DECKS, BALCONIES, STAIRS.

Decks, balconies, and stairs are particularly vulnerable to ignition from flames or embers during a wildfire.  They must be maintained clear of all vegetation debris and materials, including fallen leaves and needles, and combustible furniture and materials above and below.  

What should I do?
Please look for vegetation beneath decks, porches, balconies and exterior stairs.  Remove all vegetation growing beneath these structures to prevent the spread of fire to vulnerable undersides of overhangs and decks.  Remove or replace combustible furniture and materials such as wicker or wooden furniture, firewood, or jute doormats.  Do not store exposed combustibles such as lumber or boxes beneath decks or overhangs.  Consider enclosing the underside of decks with with a solid wall or wire-mech screening.  Redwood lattice is highly combustible and should not be used to cscreen the underside of decks.

Fire Code Reference
[14 CCR §1299.03(a)(4)]

7. RELOCATE EXPOSED FIREWOOD OR LUMBER OUTSIDE OF ZONE 1 UNLESS COVERED IN A FIRE RESISTIVE MATERIAL.

Inspectors observed exposed firewood or lumber stored too close to structure(s).

What should I do?
Firewood may not be stored exposed on decks or adjacent to structures.  Please relocate or cover firewood and lumber piles.  You may move piles more than 30' from structures, move them indoors, or alternately cover them tightly with a fire resistant cover (such as a heavy tarp or canvas, or in a tightly enclosed shed - no specific "fire resistant cover product" exists) to prevent embers from igniting the wood.  Storing firewood indoors in a garage or shed is better than leaving it exposed.  Keep firewood piles free of leaves, needles, and fine vegetation that can act as "kindling" and ignite from embers during a wildfire.  

Fire Code Reference
[14 CCR §1299.03(a)(3)]

8. CUT ANNUAL GRASSES AND FORBS (WEEDS) TO A MAXIMUM OF 4” IN HEIGHT. 

Dry grasses are a significant risk, carrying wildfires quickly and igniting readily from embers.  

What should I do?
Please mow or cut all dry, cured grasses and weeds to a maximum of 4" in height.  Cut grasses may remain on ground (no deeper than 4"), however we recommend raking and removing clippings for maximum fire-resistance.   You may need to cut grasses more than once each year if they grow back, so don't assume that everything is "OK" because you cut grasses earlier in the year.

Use plastic string trimmers, and be sure to only use gas powered mowers in the morning when vegetation is moist and temperatures are cool.  Metal bladed mowers and trimmers can spark fires.  Never use outdoor power tools on a Red Flag day.

Fire Code Reference
[2016 CFC §4907.2, 14 CCR §1299.03(b)(2)(B)]

9. PROVIDE SEPARATION BETWEEN SHRUBS AND TREES, WITH INCREASED SEPARATION ON SLOPES. 

Shrubs and trees that are too close together can help spread fire from plant to plant.  Even fire-resistant plants should have some separation, and shrubs should not be allowed to grow below trees.  

What should I do?
Please remove any shrubs growing beneath trees which create "ladder fuels" to carry fire from the ground into trees.  Provide separation between shrubs and trees by pruning aggressively or removing individual plants.  Add additional space on slopes.  Follow the helpful guidelines in this FIRESafe MARIN brochure to ensure compliance.

A continuous canopy of fire-resistant trees may be desireable in some cases to create shade (sometimes refrerred to as a "shaded fuel-break") which can suppress weeds and grasses, and help retain moisture.  Consult with an arborist or your fire department for advice before removing shade providing trees (unless they are a fire-prone species).

Fire Code Reference
[2016 CFC §4907.2, PRC §4291(a)(4)]

10. CUT AND REMOVE ALL PYROPHYTIC COMBUSTIBLE VEGETATION WITHIN 30’ OF STRUCTURES. 

Inspectors observed one or more "pyrophytic" (fire-prone) plants within 30' of structures.  

What should I do?
Pyrophytic vegetation must be removed within 30' of structures.  Pyrophytic vegetation includes dry grasses & weeds, juniper, bamboo, pampas/jubata grasses, Scotch/French broom, and many conifer trees.  See a list of common fire-prone plants at FIRESafe MARIN.

Fire Code Reference
[2016 CFC §4907.2]

11. REMOVE ALL PILES OF ACCUMULATED DEAD VEGETATION ON THE PROPERTY. 

Inspectors observed piles of accumulated dead vegetation on the property.

What should I do?
Please remove all piles of dead vegetation on property, regardless of the distance to structures.

Fire Code Reference
[2016 CFC §4907.2]

12. REMOVE TREE LIMBS AND GROWTH LESS THAN 3” DIAMETER TO 10’ ABOVE GROUND (OR 1/3 THE TREE'S HEIGHT). 

Tree limbs that are too close to the ground can help carry fire into the tree's canopy, even in fire-resistant species.

What should I do?
Please remove lower tree limbs to ensure no limbs with foliage are within 10' of the ground, unless the tree is less than 30' tall - in which case you should remove limbs to 1/3 the height of the tree.  Please contact us if this would cause harm to the structure or health of the tree.

Fire Code Reference
[2016 CFC §4907.2, PRC §4291(a)] 

13. VEGETATION CLEARANCE ADJACENT TO ROADS AND/OR DRIVEWAYS MUST BE MAINTAINED 10’ HORIZONTALLY AND 14’ VERTICALLY. 

Inspectors observed unmaintained or dead vegetation adjacent to a road or driveway, or tree limbs or shrubs overhanging the roadway.  Property owners are required to maintain vegetation adjacent to any road or driveway fronting their property, even in the public right-of-way between a property line and the pavement's edge.

What should I do?
Vegetation adjacent to roads and driveways must be maintained for 10' (horizontally) and 14' vertically.  Vegetation must be maintained in the same manner as if it were adjacent to structures.   Overhead vegetation, including shrubs and tree limbs, must be cleared to a height of 14' above the driveable surface of the road or driveway for fire apparatus clearance.

Fire Code Reference
[2016 CFC §4907.3]

14. ADDRESS NUMBERS MUST BE 4” MINIMUM, DISPLAYED IN CONTRASTING COLORS, AND READABLE FROM THE STREET. 

Inspectors did not see an address number, or your address number is not adequately visible.

What should I do?
Please install address numbers that are at least 4" tall and plainly visible from the street in both directions of travel.  Numbers must be on a contrasting background to ensure visibility.  Lighted numbers are best.  Install numbers at all entrances if you have multiple driveways.  Address numbers painted on a curb are not adequate.

Fire Code Reference
[2016 CFC §505.1]

15. EQUIP ALL CHIMNEY OR STOVEPIPE OPENINGS WITH A METAL SCREEN HAVING OPENINGS BETWEEN 3/8” AND 1/2”. 

Inspectors observed chimney(s) without a spark arrestor or ember screen.

What should I do?
Please consult a chnimney professional to install a screen with 3/8" to 1/2" openings to prevent embers from escaping.

Fire Code Reference
[2016 CBC §2113.9.2]

16. LOGS OR STUMPS EMBEDDED IN SOIL MUST BE REMOVED OR ISOLATED FROM VEGETATION WITHIN 100' OF STRUCTURES. 

Inspectors observed logs or stumps that might ignite during a wildfire.

What should I do?
This is uncommon.  If a log or stump is present, clear vegetation 10' around it to prevent ignition.

Fire Code Reference
[Applies only to SRA areas: BOF Guidelines #3.  May be required in LRA areas under 2016 CFC §4907.2]

17. OUTBUILDINGS & PROPANE (LPG) TANKS MUST HAVE 10’ OF CLEARANCE TO BARE MINERAL SOIL.

Inspectors observed vegetation or combustibles adjacent to a propane tank.

What should I do?
Most properties in Kentfield do not have exterior propane tanks.  If you do, 10' of clearance is required with no vegetation allowed for screening.  Combustible screens (redwood lattice, for example) are not permitted within 10' of propane tanks.  

Fire Code Reference
[14 CCR §1299.03(c)(1)]

INSPECTOR'S COMMENTS

Inpsectors may leave comments, additional requirements, or helpful descriptions here.

What should I do?
Please read the inspector's comments carefully.  Inspectors may leave detailed instructions or descriptions of conditions and specific hazards.  All checked boxes above must be corrected.  Do not assume that the comments are the only issue(s) that must be addressed!

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Why did you inspect my property?
Kentfield Fire Protection District has conducted annual hazard inspections for at least 40 years.  These inspections help ensure compliance with the laws (Section 4290 and 4291 of the CA Public Resources Code) and contribute to the overall safety of Kentfield and neighboring communities.

Why didn't you notify me that you'd be inspection my property in advance?
We did!  In April, Kentfield Fire Protection District mailed a full color, 4 page brochure outlining the requirements and inspection program to all Kentfield residents living in the WIldland Urban Interface (WUI).

Why didn't you inspect my neighbor's property?
We did!  All properties are inspected annually.  Your neighbor received a notice, too, and we'll follow up to ensure all neighbors comply.  If you see a hazard, or think we missed something, please email us.

What right do you have to inspect my property?
The California Fire Code and Public Resources Code grant the authority for the Fire Chief or authorized FIre Code Official to conduct inspections for compliance with the various applicable codes.

The inspectors do not enter a property without permission.  They are trained to walk up to a front door (through an unlocked front gate at the street, if present, under rules of curtilage), and knock to introduce themselves.  If no adult is present, they have two options: 1) inspect the property as visible from the front door or public areas such as from the front pathway or roadway, or 2) come back later.  Under no circumstances do the inspectors enter locked or gated areas of a property without permission of a resident or landowner, and they don't "peek" over fences.  They only inspect areas that are plainly visible from a common area unless an adult resident gives permission to gated areas.

What are the exact laws I'm required to comply with?

What happens if I am unable to, or refuse to, comply?

  • Section 4907.4 of the CA Fire Code outlines the process to abate hazards if a property owner fails to comly.  Your fire department would prefer to work with your to help you crete a safe space around your home, so please contact us for assistance if you are unable to comply.

What is a "Pyrophytic" plant species?
Plants that ignite readily and burn intensely (pyro-phases) typically share certain characteristics:

  • They are usually blade-leaf or needle-leaf evergreens. 
  • They have stiff, woody, small or fine, lacey leaves. 
  • Their leaves and wood usually contain volatile waxes, fats, terpenes or oils (crushed leaves have strong odors). 
  • Their sap is usually gummy, resinous and has a strong odor. 
  • They usually contain plentiful fine, twiggy, dry or dead materials. 
  • They may have pubescent (hair covered) leaves. 
  • They may have loose or papery bark. 
  • These plants flame (not smolder) when preheated and ignited with a match. 

FLAMMABILITY & CONDITION 
The condition of the plant is as important as its species. Even some "pyrophytic" species can be quite fire-resistant if properly maintained. Depending on its growth form and access to water, the same species may be fire resistant in one envi-ronment and pyrophytic in another.  Water-stressed plants that are in poor condition are more pyrophytic. A pyrophytic species becomes explosively flamma-ble when poorly maintained.  South-facing slopes, windy areas, sites with poor soils and urban landscapes are more stressful for plants. 

PYROPHYTIC VEGETATION TYPES:
  • Grasses: Any cured (dry) grass. Nonirrigated, annual grasses are typically more flammable than perennial grasses. Irrigated grasses are fire resistant. 
  • Herbs: Any cured herb. 
  • Ferns: Any dry or cured fem, particularly cured bracken and sword fems. 
  • Brush: Any brush with excessive deadwood. Any over-mature, dying or dead brush. 
  • Trees: Any forest, stand or urban forest that is over-dense, under stress or over mature.

What else can I do to protect my home?

What should I do if I received a violation notice?
Correct the issues noted - check www.firesafemarin.org/defensible-space for tips on complying with the law and creating Defensible Space.  If you need additional time, email defensiblespace@kentfieldfire.org.  If you have specific questions about the violation notice, feel free to email defensiblespace@kentfieldfire.org.

Why are the inspectors wearing Marin County Fire Department uniforms?
In order to complete all inspections in a timely manner, Kentfield Fire Protection District cooperates with Marin County Fire Department (MCFD).  They provide a team of trained inspectors, who under the authority of the Fire Chief, inspect properties for compliance with the CA Fire Code Section 4907.2, 4907.3, and Public Resource Code (PRC 4291). 

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1004 Sir Francis Drake Blvd
Kentfield, CA 94904
(415) 453-7464
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