The ultimate goal of weed abatement is to create a safe perimeter around a dwelling and prevent homes and any other structures from getting burned to the ground. Local authorities are the ones that set weed abatement standards and they are not a one-time requirement. A property owner is required to inform himself of the current standards and will likely need to have their property cleared more than once during the year in order to meet the existing standards. Although required throughout the year, it is extremely critical that properties be maintained during the high fire months, usually from April through October in the San Francisco Bay areas. Read on to learn more about the requirements and prevent the devastation of last year’s fire season…
General Weed Abatement Guidelines
Regular brush clearing will reduce the number and size of vegetation and make prevention and fire extermination much easier to accomplish. Be sure to always follow your local authority guidelines. These guidelines were established to provide fire control points and to create or maintain a defensible space around buildings and property lines. Creating a defensible space will help minimize fire damage and provide a fuel break where firefighters can defend against fire. Properties with annual abatement requirements will be sent a letter instructing the property owner on how to abate these fire hazards – usually around mid-April.
CODES AND STANDARDS
Brush, weeds, grasses, vines, and other vegetation capable of endangering a property must be cut down and removed by the owner or occupant of the premises. Also, vegetation clearance requirements in the Wildland-Urban Interface Areas must be in accordance with the California Fire Code and local ordinances.
BRUSH CLEARING CRITERIA
- Parcels up to five (5) acres must have all combustible growth cut or removed
- Parcels over five (5) acres shall maintain a minimum disked perimeter (minimum 30-feet wide) around the property, turning the soil in such a way as to bury all vegetation
- Larger parcels may require additional fuel breaks to divide the property into smaller areas that would separate large amounts of fuel
Defensible space must be 30 – 100 feet wide, cut one inch off the ground (depending on grade and other factors) around all structures, either man-made or natural, where the material is capable of allowing a fire to spread unchecked. The vegetation must be cleared, treated, or modified to slow the rate and intensity of an approaching fire.
Roadways, Driveways, and Fire Department Access Roads
Roads or driveways shall be cleared of combustible vegetation equal to the width of the road plus ten feet (10’) on both sides. The property owner must also mitigate any additional fire hazard(s) that are determined by the City’s Fire Chief.
Mowing is acceptable where disking is impractical or inappropriate. These areas would include but are not limited to, biologically sensitive areas or habitats.
When mowing with a tractor is sometimes impractical due to terrain, mowing with a handheld weed-eater is acceptable and referred to as “handwork”. In some cases, the use of goats and sheep are acceptable abatement practices.
If you are unclear on the appropriate method to abate, contact your local Weed Abatement Officer for guidance.
Endangered/Threatened Plants and Wildlife
If the landowner recognizes any type of State or Federally-listed and protected plant or wildlife species on the property, then the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department ought to be notified 10 days prior to the proposed brush clearing. As an example, if you are aware of red-legged frogs in your location you need to inform the appropriate authorities. Also, if a State or Federally listed wildlife species is killed, injured, or caught, the landowner is required to report this to the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
When do Weed Abatement Inspections Begin?
Weed Abatement notifications are normally sent out by mail – one time only – during springtime. When precisely is not exact as this can vary depending upon the beginning and duration of the rain season. If found in violation of the current fire safety code, owners are instructed to perform weed abatement within a determined time frame.
How Do You Know if You Are in Violation?
Properties with vegetation 12” inches or higher will be found in violation and subject to a penalty which can be as high as $1,500 plus all related costs of abatement and a Fire Department “Fire Declaration Fee”. Weed Abatement of hazards by the city is not a service, rather it is to address an enforcement or safety issue.
List of Highly Flammable Plants
• Saw Palmetto
• Wax Myrtle
• Eastern red cedar
• Leyland cypress
GROUNDCOVERS, BEDDING PLANTS, and VINES
• Pampas grass
• Pine straw
Please Note: When living in the Wildland Urban Interface areas, it is recommended that these plants NOT be planted adjacent to any wooden structure such as houses, fences, or decks. This list
is NOT inclusive as other plants with similar characteristics, i.e. low moisture content, a high percentage of dead limbs, or are under stress, can affect their performance.
Mowing weeds must be completed safely; one small spark from a mower blade hitting a rock can result in a large fire. All mowing should be completed as early in the morning as possible, while temperatures are low, humidity is high, and grasses are still damp with dew. When mowing, always have a water fire extinguisher or other source and pointed shovel handy. Mow early and often.
Weed abatement and wildfire prevention is a big job. Of course, you could buy the appropriate equipment, or buy some goats, familiarize yourself with all the requirements and do it all yourself. But why? We at Shamrock Landscape have purchased weed abatement equipment and are ready to help our customers from Benicia, Vallejo, American Canyon, Cordelia, Fairfield, Vacaville, Dixon, and Woodland with their wild fire prevention needs. Just give us a call at (707) 647-2000 and set up an appointment.