Upcoming .Defensible Space. Property Inspections

Posted: 7/15/2014 12:09pm


In the State of California and the Lexington Hills, Fire Season is here. We have had several very dry years, fuel moisture content is very low, and the weather is heating up. In this environment, protecting your home from wildfire should be one of your top priorities. Starting in mid-July 2014, you will receive a visit from CAL FIRE inspectors to determine if your home has the legally required .Defensible Space. clearances. The Defensible Space inspections are supported by the .Fire Prevention Fee. we have been paying to the State for over the last few years.

These are called LE-100 inspections, and are named after the form the fire inspector fills out. The State of California gives authorityto conduct these inspections to local officials. In Santa Clara County it is our local CAL FIRE Battalion Chief and Fire Prevention Chief who decide where and when the inspections will happen. The LE-100 inspections have already begun in Redwood Estates and will start in Chemeketa Park in the next week or two. Each spring the Santa Clara County Fire Department sends out a flyer reminding us 1) it is time to prepare our properties for the arriving fire season and 2) what standards we are required to meet. This year and in subsequent years we will receive a visit from a CAL FIRE crew who will fill out the LE-100 form and advise each resident of any problems in meeting .Defensible Space. requirements. Additional steps can be taken by the inspector, including citations, fines, and court appearances, if compliance doesn't occur. CAL FIRE would much rather educate and support rather than issue citations! Please be respectful of their efforts.

Since the whole point of these inspections is to make you and your property safer in the event of a fire, it is in your best interest to make the recommended changes. Most of the requirements are simple, as spelled out in the Public Resources Code, section 4291, which you can easily find on the Internet. In summary:

  • Maintain a well-cleared area 30 feet around your home. You can have trees and ground cover in this area, but keep them well trimmed and be sure they can't spread fire to any buildings.
  • Limb trees up so they can be easily walked under, six to ten feet high depending on the slope of your land.
  • Maintain a fuel reduction zone out to 100 feet around your home. In this area remove brush and other low growing fuels, thin the trees out to keep them well separated, and limb them up so they can be walked under easily. Remove ladder fuels.
  • Remove any portion of a tree that comes within 10 feet of a chimney.
  • Remove any dead or dying wood from trees that overhang a building.
  • Remove leaves, needles, and other flammables from your roof and gutters.
  • Cover any chimney with a spark arrestor having openings no greater than one half-inch square.

If your home is close to the property line, maintain your own property as specified and work with your neighbor to get your 100-foot clearance, if possible. Remember that everyone is safer if these conditions are met.

In addition to the above, an inspection may point out other issues to be addressed, such as:

  • Removal of all flammables from beneath open decks, and making sure that no firewood is stored against the home.
  • Removal of abandoned vehicles.
  • Clearance around propane tanks.

 Your address must be clearly posted in four-inch numbers on a contrasting background in front of your home and/or at the intersections of the road and your driveway.

Keep the roads in front of and behind your property clear so fire engines can easily access your property. If fire fighters can't get to your home, they can't help you in an emergency. Consider your driveway a firebreak and trim trees and brush well up and back. (Fire engines are often over ten feet tall, so limb those trees up!) In a large fire, crews make decisions about which houses can be saved and which ones aren't defensible very quickly. If your home is well maintained, with good clearances and access, it is more likely that a crew will be committed to saving it. If your home is so well maintained that it will stand alone during a fire - freeing an engine crew to work somewhere else - that's even better. Nothing is guaranteed, of course, but your work could mean your home will still be standing after a fire comes through.

Also remember that these are only guidelines. For example, if your home is on a hillside, and fire could come up the hill towards it, you'll need more than 100 feet of fuel reduction zone. You can learn more from the CAL FIRE website: or you can visit your local CAL FIRE station, where they have copies of printed brochures on how to make your home safer.

Finally, there are programs available to help you chip your trimmings. In Santa Clara County, you can contact the Santa Clara County Fire Safe Council. Ultimately the maintenance of a defensible space/fuel reduction zone is the responsibility of each property owner.

Please do your best to prepare for a fire in advance. Your assistance helps your firefighters save lives and property, and it could very well save your home.