Fire Chief: now is time for residents to create fire `buffer zones'

RIVERSIDE, Calif. - Riverside County Fire Chief John Hawkins today urged residents to begin making preparations for fire season, mainly by clearing the immediate space around their homes of deadwood, overgrowth and anything else that might fuel a brush fire.

"With summer rapidly  approaching, vegetation will continue to dry out, creating even more dangerous fire conditions than we are already experiencing," Hawkins said.

"I urge residents and property owners to do their part in not only protecting your home and family against an approaching wildland fire, but help to protect our firefighters from potential harm when they are tasked with protecting homes that do not have defensible space, as required by law," he said.

The California Public Resources Code identifies defensible space as the area extending 100 feet from a dwelling.

There are two so-called "buffer zones." Zone No. 1 is the first 30 feet from the house, and includes outdoor decks, sheds and similar structures, according to the fire department.

Zone No. 1 must be cleared of dead grass, weeds and plants, as well as exposed wood piles. Fallen pine needles, leaves and other debris from trees and shrubs should be cleared from yards, rain gutters and roofs.

Dead branches and live tree limbs should not be closer than 10 feet from a chimney, while all fire-prone shrubbery should be cleared away from decks and windows, according to the fire department.

Zone No. 2 is the space extending 30-100 feet from the primary residence. According to the fire department, all fallen leaves, twigs, bark, cones and branches -- with some exceptions for erosion control -- should be removed, and "sufficient vertical and horizontal spacing" should be allowed between trees and bushes.

Failure to maintain a property in accordance with state and local ordinances can result in fines. In the city of Riverside, the Department of Code Enforcement monitors properties for compliance.

The fire department emphasized the need for property owners to be careful about they type of equipment used for brush clearance. Gasoline-powered weed eaters, mowers, tractors, chainsaws and harvesters must be fitted with spark arresters.

County residents were encouraged to check out the following website for guidelines on brush removal: readyforwildfire.org.

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