By Kathe Malouf
Special to the Sun
Kern Valley residents have less than a month to clear away the tall grass and dry brush from around their properties. And for those residents who tend to procrastinate the chore of weeding may find themselves facing a hefty fine, as the Kern County Fire Department (KCFD) is taking hazard reduction very seriously this year.
Property owners have until June 1 to get their properties into compliance with the Fire Hazard Reduction Program. On June 2, Kern County Fire Department personnel will begin making their annual inspections, and if the requirements as established by the KCFD are not met, property owners will be subject to a $500 administrative citation.
“Hazard reduction is not only a law that we enforce, but it is the right thing to do,” said Kern County Fire Chief Brian Marshall. The Fire Hazard Reduction Program applies to all properties located within high fire-prone areas of the state, referred to as State Responsibility Area’s (SRA). In Kern County, those areas include the mountain communities of Frazier Park, Pine Mountain Club, Tehachapi, Stallion Springs, Havilah, Alta Sierra and the Kern River Valley.
Marshall refers to the program as a partnership between his department and the property owner.
“We can’t save a house if the roof is full of pine needles or there is dead brush or stacks of wood piled up to the house,” Marshall said. “The Defensible Space program protects your property. We don’t have enough fire trucks to put in front of every house. But we will put a truck and crew on a block and if you build a defensible space around your property, there is a high likelihood that we will be able to save your house,” Marshall said.
The owners of properties that are not in compliance with the Hazard Reduction program will be cited and given 15 days to either dispute the citation or provide proof that the violation has been corrected. After the 15-day period, the $500 fee will be assessed on the property. Property owners may be subject to an additional $1,000 fine for continued non-compliance.
“We don’t want to cite a single person,” Marshall said. “My job as fire chief is to protect your home. And when there is a fire, if you have done your job with hazard reduction, then we can go in and do our job. We are going to try to save every house we can.”
The goal of the Fire Hazard Reduction Program is to protect life and property through public education and a regulation program that is designed to reduce hazards that result from inadequate defensible spacing.
This year, the fire department introduced a few changes to the program by moving the deadline up from June 15 to June 1 and doubling the amount of the first citation from $250 to $500.
According to Zach Snyder, Hazard Reduction Officer, the deadline was moved up for several reasons.
“We wanted to decrease the number of fires by people performing defensible space clearing and burning during the hot weather,” Snyder said. He noted that there have already been several fires in Kern County caused by residents legally burning brush piles as part of hazard reduction, including a four-acre fire in Wofford Heights last month. “We also want to get our field personnel out making their inspections before the arrival of hot weather, so they can be back in the station ready to respond to calls,” Snyder said.
Snyder noted that another reason for moving the deadline to June 1 was to align Kern County’s deadline with neighboring counties, noting that a universal deadline makes it easier for property owners who own property in Kern County but live in other counties, to remember.
Another change to the program was made to the administrative citation fee, which doubles this year.
“A lot of people felt that it was easier to pay a $250 fine rather than clear their properties,” Snyder said. “We are hoping to motivate people to get their properties cleared by doubling the amount to $500 for the first citation. We are still one of the lowest fees to our neighboring counties.”
The Defensible Space program allows for the fire department to better protect private properties in the event of a fire. “It gives us a place to work safely and keep fire from the home,” Snyder said. “It increases our safety and the safety of the public.”
Marshall said the program and revisions all center on the importance of fire prevention in fire-prone areas.
“Fire season is year-round in California, and all it takes is wind and a spark and you have a wild fire,” Marshall said.
Although June 1 is the deadline, Marshall encourages property owners to think about fire safety year-round. “You don’t need to wait until June 1 to clear your property. The fuel is always ready to burn.”
While Marshall said he doesn’t have a crystal ball to forecast what this summer will bring in terms of wildfires, he offered his prediction.
“My prediction is that the threat is extremely high for a very busy fire season in the Kern River Valley. When you put wind, dry grass and hot weather conditions together, you will have the potential for another Erskine Fire. There is a lot of fuel out there, and the Kern Valley will get hot and windy days.”
With that, he encourages property owners to do their part to protect their properties.
The KCFD website lists the Fire Hazard Reduction program guidelines for establishing the required 100-foot clearance around all structures as Defensible Space.
The Defensible Space clearance is set up in two zones: “Zone 1” which extends 30 feet from structures and requires the removal of all non-ornamental combustible fuels. “Zone 2” extends 30 to 70-feet from the structure and requires property owners to reduce all combustible fuels within that area.
The fire department provides detailed information about the Hazard Reduction Program, including the required clearance guidelines to get properties into compliance, as well as a list of fire hazard reduction service providers. Although the fire department does not recommend or endorse any particular provider, all providers on the list have attended the annual training by the Kern County Fire Department for hazard reduction clearance requirements.
For more information about the Fire Hazard Reduction Program, or a list of the fire hazard reduction service providers in the Kern Valley, go to the fire department’s website at www.kerncountyfire.org