Get ready for summer – remove hazardous vegetation now
Fire department inspection programs will get underway in June
COVID-19 or not, fire season is steadily approaching and Sonoma Valley fire departments, including Kenwood and Glen Ellen, will again be inspecting up to 400 residents to make sure people are taking defensible space seriously.
“We are planning to move forward with inspecting in the first week of June,” Kenwood Fire Chief Daren Bellach said last week. That is barring any unexpected events. The fire department is expected to complete 200 inspections this year with perhaps 100 follow-ups where people are asked to meet standards, under the rules set by the county.
On April 21, county supervisors in a video meeting prompted by current shelter in place rules, reviewed proposed clarifications to current vegetation management rules and expanded them to include some properties over five acres in size that were previously excluded. A public hearing on the new rules was postponed to May 12, 9 a.m., at the regular Board of Supervisor’s Tuesday meeting, which will likely be virtual.
Supervisor Susan Gorin said, “We need more time to outreach to the community about the changes and we appreciate everybody’s attention to that matter.” Comments and emails already received will be included in the public hearing record.
New provisions include: “more stringent requirements to remove flammable vegetation and dead/dying vegetation which are on, below or adjacent to structures, decks, balconies, stairs or similar attachments; moving or covering wood piles located within 30 feet of structures, and maintaining clearance around woodpiles; and separating logs and stumps from other vegetation and structures.”
Two major changes include increasing the distance that owners of unimproved parcels must maintain to protect neighboring structures, from 10 feet to 30 feet, and removing a “zoned for five acres or less” limitation on where inspections are required.
County Fire Marshal James Williams said that the removal of the five-acre limitation allows for more consistent enforcement within selected areas. The expansion of coverage will add 9,631 parcels greater than five acres to the 17,898 parcels already covered, he said.
“There are many communities in the county where many parcels are one acre or less in size, but area-wide zoning is for more than five acres,” Williams said. “The current ordinance requirements cannot be enforced in these areas, even subsequent to a legitimate complaint. By removing the limitation, we facilitate an inspection program that can have community-wide impact.”
Keep in mind that no district is being asked to inspect every covered parcel.
“We are looking to complete 4,000 inspections, including complaints,” Williams said last week. He added, “Past experience indicates that approximately 50 percent of inspections will be non-compliant.”
Kenwood’s Chief Bellach said that has been his experience in the past, with on-duty personnel making both the initial and follow up inspections.
Williams said that fire inspections are done mainly because they are required under state and county fire safety rules, but also come about through complaints made for any number of reasons, often made by neighbors worried about absentee landlords not paying attention to the rules.
“Our 2020 budget includes funding for up to 1,400 complaint-based inspections,” Williams said. “These inspections follow up on complaints that are received from the public. Last year, [we] received slightly more than 250 complaints. Staff from Permit Sonoma Fire Prevention and fire districts follow up on inspections.”
Learn more about cleaning up your property for fire season at sonomacounty.ca.gov/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=2147575263.
Materials are available in Spanish, too. Information about vegetation management inspections can be found at sonomacounty.ca.gov/PRMD/Fire-Prevention/Vegetation-Management-Services/Hazardous-Vegetation/.