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CAL FIRE conducts Defensible Space Inspections


Last updated 7/3/2017 at Noon

There's no reason to get nervous or hot under the collar if an inspector from CAL FIRE comes knocking at the door. The official is there to help.

CAL FIRE is currently conducting Defensible Space Inspections in Fallbrook to help homeowners understand the importance of defensible space, which is the buffer between a home and the vegetation (grass, trees, shrubs) that surrounds it. The buffer is created when property owners clear out a space of 100 feet around their homes.

“The biggest objective is education,” said Kevin McCully, Fire Captain Specialist for CAL FIRE. “We’re out there to spread information and to try and help people understand what’s necessary to provide some kind of protection for their homes. So if you see an inspector out there, treat them right and ask them questions. They should have the answers."

Defensible space can slow or stop the spread of wildfire and thus reduce the chances of a home catching fire from either direct flames or radiant heat. It also provides a work space for firefighters trying to protect the home.

“We’ve seen it work a lot, where houses that have had the protection have remained standing and also given us a fighting chance to put an engine in there to protect it,” said McCully. “If your house doesn’t have those clearances, then it doesn’t give our engine crews a chance to save it. They can give it all they've got and a lot of times it still won’t be good enough to save a house that doesn’t have the clearances.”

McCully said the 100 feet of defensible space is broken into two zones.

“The first zone is the first 50 feet,” said McCully. “It is called ‘the lean green zone’ where you have limited amount of combustibles, mostly lawns. In the second 50 feet you could actually have natural vegetation provided you thinned it out and limbed it up off the ground.”

Ideally, trees in the second 50 feet would be separated from each other a bit and well manicured, according to McCully.

“When trees are closer to the house, you don’t want the continuous canopy if you can avoid that,” said McCully. “It is important to thin all the dead wood out of them and to trim up six feet off the ground, or to one-third the height of the tree if it’s an immature or small tree.”

A very important task in creating defensible space is the clearing of tall grasses.

"The native grass that grows back every year after the rains and then dies off is probably one of the most hazardous because those grasses are what allows the fire to burn up into the heavier trees and ornamental brushes that you have around your house," said McCully. “We’ve seen a good crop of those light grasses because of the rain. What they do is allow fire to spread more rapidly and also ignite more easily."

Because the grasses can ignite easily, McCully said it is important for homeowners to be careful when clearing property.

“If you are clearing your weeds or doing your yard work, do it early in the morning when the humidity is higher and it’s cooler,” said McCully. “And don’t use metal-bladed weed eaters around the dry brush and vegetation because we’ve had a lot of people who are trying to do the right thing and they go out and their mower hits a rock and sparks a fire."

Establishing defensible space is not only a smart thing to do, it's required.

"There are state and local laws that require compliance from the homeowners,” said McCully, who added that inspectors want to work with people rather than give citations.

“The inspector will give them a reasonable amount of time to get the work done and then come back and re-inspect it," said McCully. "They’ll work with the homeowner as long as they are working with us and doing some work. That’s the main part.”

McCully said the majority of people are happy to get with the defensible space program.

"It's usually just a matter of education and getting people the right information," said McCully. "People are usually pretty anxious to get it done. They want to do what they can to protect their home."

For more information and defensible space tips, visit and or download CAL FIRE’s Ready for Wildfire app.


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