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Proposed Assembly Bill For Fire Protection Requires Ember-Resistant Zone Around Structures

Proposed Assembly Bill 1516 (Friedman D), entitled; "Fire Prevention: Defensible Space and Fuels Reduction Management", has been making its way through the State Legislature this year. It has passed through the Assembly, is currently being reviewed by the Senate, and was last amended on September 6th.

This bill makes various changes to improve defensible space requirements, vegetation clearance requirements of electrical transmission and distribution lines, and the technical assistance requirements of the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) to help local governments improve the fire safety of communities.

Among other fire prevention regulations, AB-1516 would establish the following defensible space provisions for a person who owns, leases, controls, operates, or maintains an occupied dwelling or occupied structure, which is in, upon, or adjoining a mountainous area, forest-covered land, brush-covered land, grass-covered land, or land that is covered with flammable material, and which is also located in a Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone (VHFHSZ):

** When last amending the bill, the Senate changed the term "noncombustible zone" to "ember-resistant zone". Yet, the bill does not define "ember-resistant". So, it is unclear if an ember-resistant zone would only allow hardscape and succulents within the zone or if it would allow other varieties of vegetation too.

It's important to note that existing law already mandates the following:

Staff Report For The August 5th Mill Valley City Council Meeting Regarding AB-1516

The Staff Report for the August 5th Mill Valley City Council Meeting reported on AB-1516 and stated the following:

"The Council should know that The California Legislature is currently considering Assembly Bill 1516 Titled: "Defensible Space and Fuels Reduction Management". This bill in its current form includes similar language as presented within the Mill Valley Vegetation ordinance that incorporates the requirement for a noncombustible zone of 5' (five feet) of a structure to take effect on January 1, 2022 (for proposed new homes) and one year following (January 1, 2023) for existing homes.

The areas to be included for the new requirements include the Very High Fire Severity Zones (VHFSZ) identified by the State of California and/or by a local government. Approximate!y 75% of the City of Mill Valley is considered by the State of California as a VHFSZ. Staff will provide the community and City Council with updates on the progress of this proposed State-wide legislation in coming months."

Please CLICK HERE to view the August 5th Staff Report.

California Legislative Information About AB-1516

Below is information from the California Legislative Information website.

Excerpts From The Text Of AB-1516:

"Ember ignitions are responsible for the majority of wildland fire home ignitions. Establishing a five-foot ember-resistant zone around a structure to eliminate specified materials near structures that will likely be ignited by embers provides important new protections enhancing a home’s chance of surviving a wildfire."

"51182. (a) A person who owns, leases, controls, operates, or maintains an occupied dwelling or occupied structure in, upon, or adjoining a mountainous area, forest-covered land, brush-covered land, grass-covered land, or land that is covered with flammable material, which area or land is within a very high fire hazard severity zone designated by the local agency pursuant to Section 51179, shall at all times do all of the following:

(1) (A) Maintain defensible space of 100 feet from each side and from the front and rear of the structure, but not beyond the property line except as provided in subparagraph (B). The amount of fuel modification necessary shall consider the flammability of the structure as affected by building material, building standards, location, and type of vegetation. Fuels shall be maintained in a condition so that a wildfire burning under average weather conditions would be unlikely to ignite the structure. This subparagraph does not apply to single specimens of trees or other vegetation that are well-pruned and maintained so as to effectively manage fuels and not form a means of rapidly transmitting fire from other nearby vegetation to a structure or from a structure to other nearby vegetation.

The intensity of fuels management may vary within the 100-foot perimeter of the structure with more intense fuel reductions being utilized between 5 and 30 feet around the structure, and an ember-resistant zone being required within 5 feet of the structure, based on regulations promulgated by the State Board of Forestry and Fire Protection, in consultation with the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, to consider the elimination of materials in the ember-resistant zone that would likely be ignited by embers. Consistent with fuels management objectives, steps should be taken to minimize erosion.

(B) A greater distance than that required under subparagraph (A) may be required by state law, local ordinance, rule, or regulation. Clearance beyond the property line may only be required if the state law, local ordinance, rule, or regulation includes findings that the clearing is necessary to significantly reduce the risk of transmission of flame or heat sufficient to ignite the structure, and there is no other feasible mitigation measure possible to reduce the risk of ignition or spread of wildfire to the structure. Clearance on adjacent property shall only be conducted following written consent by the adjacent landowner.

(C) An insurance company that insures an occupied dwelling or occupied structure may require a greater distance than that required under subparagraph (A) if a fire expert, designated by the fire chief or fire official from the authority having jurisdiction, provides findings that the clearing is necessary to significantly reduce the risk of transmission of flame or heat sufficient to ignite the structure, and there is no other feasible mitigation measure possible to reduce the risk of ignition or spread of wildfire to the structure. The greater distance may not be beyond the property line unless allowed by state law, local ordinance, rule, or regulation."

Please CLICK HERE to view the text of AB-1516.

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About Mill Valley's Vegetation Management Ordinance for Fire Prevention:

The Mill Valley City Council recently adopted a new Vegetation Management Ordinance for Fire Prevention. The City's originally proposed Vegetation Management Ordinance would have required roughly 75% of residents to create a 3-foot "hard scape", with gravel, concrete, brick, pavers, or bare ground around their homes. However, due to heavy community resistance, the Council voted to amend the municipal law so that the hardscape would be voluntary. Yet, if AB-1516 passes, the State may mandate the City to review its decision and consider requiring an "ember-resistant zone" around certain homes.