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By Joe Naiman
Village News Reporter 

San Diego County updates fire code


Last updated 3/27/2020 at 12:55am

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors approved updates to the county fire code.

A 5-0 vote, Feb. 11, approved the first reading and introduction of the revised ordinance while a 5-0 vote, Feb. 25, approved the second reading and adoption. The new provisions take effect March 26.

The county can have a fire code more stringent than state standards if findings of increased risk due to weather, topography or other factors are made. A fire protection district can adopt a fire code more stringent than county standards if findings of an increased hazard are made. The findings can include but are not limited to vegetation which is combustible in its natural state, hot and dry conditions including Santa Ana winds during certain times of the year, a history of drought conditions, hilly and mountainous terrain which would limit access and egress while also increasing the speed at which wildfires spread, a history of severe wildfires causing devastating losses, potentially severe rainstorms in which flooding and earth movement occur and proximity to earthquake fault zones.

The county’s consolidated fire code includes the fire protection district codes but incorporates those codes into a single document rather than separate documents for each fire agency. This year's update is the first to the consolidated fire code since 2017. The first consolidated fire code was adopted in October 2001.

The new county fire code adds provisions related to vegetation management, water storage, fireworks and increased fire equipment access to new developments in rural areas. New provisions also address general safety, hazardous materials and building and equipment design features.

The new code separates artificial decorative vegetation from natural vegetation and adds requirements specific to artificial decorative vegetation. Large quantities of artificial decorative vegetation which do not comply with National Fire Protection Association standards may generative massive amounts of heat when they burn, and the new fire code quantifies the term “limited quantities” of the noncompliant artificial vegetation. Wreathes will be limited to 50% of the door, garland will be limited to 30% of a wall and other items have a height limit of 36 inches.

Above-ground liquid petroleum gas containers with a water capacity of no more than 2,000 gallons shall be separated from public ways by a distance of at least 5 feet. A container with a water capacity exceeding 2,000 gallons shall be separated by public ways in accordance with fixed specifications.

The new fire code addresses the explosive nature of Division 1.4G explosives – under the United Nations shipping classification system consumer fireworks are classified in Division 1.4G, display fireworks are part of Division 1.3G, large fireworks are in Division 1.2G, and very large fireworks are among Division 1.1G explosives – and removes the 100% increase in quantity for sprinklers where those items are stored. Consumer fireworks are removed as a special exemption and the requirements are consolidated into their own category.

All warming fires involving the open burning of wood will be required to have a spark arrester screen of half an inch or smaller.

Firewood must now be stored on bare soil or a noncombustible material with 10 feet of space between vegetation or other combustible material, and the wood must be at least 15 feet from the drip line of a tree. No more than two cords of wood will be permitted, and the pile dimensions shall be no more than 4 feet in height, 4 feet in width and 16 feet in length.

If a driveway exceeds 150 feet but not 600 feet, a turnout must be provided near the midpoint of the driveway and a turnaround must be provided within 50 feet of the building. If the driveway exceeds 600 feet turnouts must be provided no further than 400 feet of each other. The maximum dead-end road length of 800 feet for parcels less than 1 acre, 1,320 feet for parcels between 1 and 4.99 acres, 2,640 feet for parcels between 5 and 19.99 acres, and 5,280 feet for parcels 20 acres or larger is unchanged, but for parcels 5 acres or larger turnarounds must be provided every 1,320 feet.

Address numbers visible from the street still must be 4 inches high with a 1/2-inch stroke width for residential buildings and 12 inches high with a one-inch stroke width for industrial buildings. The minimum for commercial and multi-family residential buildings was increased from 6-8 inches in height and from 1/2 inch to 1 inch in stroke width.

The minimum residential water tank capacity for a building more than 1,500 square feet in size was increased from 5,000 gallons to 10,000 gallons and the duration requirement was increased from 20 minutes to 40 minutes.

A reflective blue marker in the street identifies the location of a fire hydrant; the marker is offset to identify the side of the street with the hydrant. The changes add reflective green markers which will identify a non-hydrant fire department connection.

A ground-mounted photovoltaic energy array at least 10 acres in size will require a fire apparatus access roadway around the array, and any combustible vegetation within 30 feet of the array is limited to 6 inches in height. Arrays with multiple equipment structures shall include a means for the firefighters to readily identify each equipment structure and the local fire code official may require a lighted directory map to be installed on-site near the entry to the facility.

A new section on home ignition zones requires areas within 5 feet of an exterior wall to have hardscape or non-combustible vegetation which is limited to 18 inches in height; irrigation is required while mulch and other combustible materials are prohibited. Within 50 feet of an exterior wall vegetation must be irrigated and no more than 10 feet in height while trees may be no more than 30 feet in height. Between 50 and 100 feet from the exterior wall bushes and trees must be limbed off the ground so that the lowest branch is at least 1/3 the height of a bush or tree less than 18 feet tall or at least 6 feet for a tree more than 18 feet tall.


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