North County Fire Marshal explains weed abatement policies
Last updated 7/16/2020 at 2:51am
Every year, the North County Fire Protection District inspects thousands of properties in Fallbrook to ensure owners are creating defensible spaces around their homes and taking other steps to reduce the risk of fires in populated areas.
It’s a task that is especially important in Fallbrook which, surrounded by wildlands, remains one of the most fire-prone areas in San Diego County.
NCFPD Fire Marshal Dominic Fieri said the fire district inspects 5,914 individual properties in its local responsibility area in central Fallbrook; Cal Fire San Diego handles areas further out, though they remain in the North County fire district.
Fieri said the local responsibility area includes the area east of Camp Pendleton roughly spanning from Winter Haven Road in the south, to Live Oak Park Road in the east, to the edge of De Luz in the north, though property owners should check with NCFPD if they are unsure whether their area is in the local responsibility area.
Property owners had until June 1 to clear dead brush and create defensible spaces around structures, which was an extension from the original May 15 deadline this year.
The original deadline was a full month ahead of 2019's weed abatement deadline, in anticipation of dry weather leading to high levels of fire fuel. However, higher-than-expected rainfall has mitigated some of this risk, allowing the fire district to feel comfortable moving back the weed abatement deadline by two weeks.
Fieri said property owners are required to clear all dead, annual grasses and weeds on properties that are under five acres, which account for the majority of the properties in NCFPD’s local responsibility area, though green grasses are not required to be cleared. Dead grass and brush, Fieri said, is extremely vulnerable to embers spreading from whatever nearby wildfires may occur.
Larger properties, he said, are allowed to use fuel breaks in place of eliminating all dry grasses.
“But most of the stuff we have is (under) five acres, so it’s easier to say your property needs to be maintained,” Fieri said.
Fieri said NCFPD has just one inspector to look at the almost 6,000 properties in the fire district’s local responsibility area.
“He pre-identifies, but we can’t do anything until June 1, and that’s when we started posting (notices) on the properties,” Fieri said.
Fieri said, of the properties in NCFPD’s local responsibility area, the vast majority were compliant this year, with around 500 being noncompliant.
He said the fire district does its best to work with owners who are noncompliant, though fire officials will send out a contractor themselves if owners won’t clear their properties.
“It goes up to three inspections and, if they don’t clean it or get someone to clean it themselves, we send out a contractor, and there’s a $600 fine on top of getting the contractor,” Fieri said.
He said it’s never NCFPD’s intention to enforce weed abatement requirements in that manner, but the requirements are necessary for community safety.
“We don't want to be in that enforcement, it’s not our choice,” Fieri said. ‘It’s more like this is a community issue.”
Fieri said many property owners who are fined do pay as soon as possible, but the fire district can put liens on properties whose owners refuse to pay.
NCFPD’s requirements for residential properties, listed online, are as follows:
● Parcel fronting on a public street or alley shall be abated to the edge of the public street or alley.
● Trees shall be limbed no less than 6 feet from ground level within 30 feet of buildings.
● Brush and combustible vegetation (excluding landscaping) must be cleared 100 feet around all buildings.
● Remove that portion of any tree extending within 10 feet of the chimney outlet.
● Maintain any tree adjacent to or overhanging any building free of dead wood.
● Maintain by removing all debris, leaves, needles, or other dead vegetative growth from roof structures and rain gutters.
● Remove any/all flammable dead debris from underneath/around all bushes, plants, and/or landscaping structures including stairs, decks, patios, carports, etc.
● Post address in visible area in numbers not less than 3" high, 3/8" wide and in a contrasting color. If your address cannot be seen from the roadway and/or if your driveway serves multiple residences, post your address (same specifications above) on a 4' post at the driveway entrance so that it is visible from both ways of travel.
● Maintain driveway access clear 12 feet wide and 15 feet high.
The fire district’s requirements for large lots and unimproved properties are as follows:
● The parcel shall be cleared to grade of all combustible weeds and debris. EXCEPTION: When cutting is used as the method of abatement, the remaining stubble shall not exceed 2 inches in height.
● Dry pastures (fenced land used for the purpose of grazing livestock) and dry croplands (land used to produce grain or hay) shall have a firebreak around the entire perimeter of the parcel.
● Firebreaks shall be no less than 16 feet minimum width and completely cleared of all combustible weeds, debris, hay and grain. NOTE: Combustible weeds and debris shall not be removed by burning. Firebreaks shall be tilled, disked, or scraped.
● Parcels which experience a "second growth" shall be re-cut, if it is determined to be a fire hazard.
Will Fritz can be reached by email at [email protected]