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Sonoma County Gazette

Fire Risk Assessments by Local Sonoma County Fire Departments and CalFire

Aug 1, 2019
by Vesta Copestakes


Local fire departments and state inspectors have been coming on to private and public property, unannounced, to inspect for potential fire risk.

Yes, this is legal and it’s necessary.

People still aren’t getting the message that fire risk is REAL and every person is responsible for where they live and work.

Sonoma County passed Ordinance 13A requiring property owners to:

• Trim up trees to 6 feet from the ground to reduce fire fuel.
• Increase horizontal spacing between trees, which may not be feasible in densely-forested properties.
• Mow grass fields to less than 8” tall
• Reduce “ladder fuels” by trimming trees and bushes of dead branches
• Mulch with non-flammable material within 5 feet of a structure.
• Clean roofs and gutters of debris.

$500,000 was available to fund these inspections, and now that they are complete, property owners will be receiving reports on what they must do to comply.

If you do not receive a report, it’s because not EVERY property was inspected...just a random sample in especially fire-prone areas. Renters will not be held responsible for the property on which they live. It is the responsibility of the property owner to mitigate fire risk. Reports will then be sent to the owner. Photos of violations will be forwarded to the county and people have 30 days to come into compliance. There will be some leniency if it is evident that work is being done but not complete, and if property owners cannot afford to hire services to do the work. There is a potential for funding, but that has not been established yet.


If property owners do not take care of their own properties, the county will do it for them and bill them for the cost. A lien on the property will be placed if the owner cannot or will not reimburse the county for this work.

Do we have your attention yet?

Consider the options. When fire rages through a community it destroys millions of dollars worth of property as well as lives. People are traumatized, lose their homes, some become permanently homeless, others move away, there are less homes for people, the area loses money in the short-term, and in the long-term it takes time to recover.

Being prepared is the ONLY option.

Whether you live in an apartment complex or neighborhood of single-family homes, getting together with neighbors to prepare an emergency plan, and working together to clean up where you live, is the only reasonable solution.

Be ready for Power Outages

It’s more than the food in your refrigerator that goes bad. You can put bottles of water in your freezer and it will keep your refrigerator cold for up to 3 days, and you get water to drink as it melts, but that’s only a small solution to a much larger problem.

Power outages are more likely in rural areas than in cities where there is less-flammable material. Once power is turned otf, it could take days before it gets turned back on. Inspections are time-consuming because the entire power system has to be inspected for per can be resumed.

When you meet with neighbors, find out if any are on life-support systems that require electricity. Those are the most vulnerable and will need the most help right away.

Gas generators are expensive and can be dangerous so consider investing in solar and wind power generators for short-term use.

Store plenty of water or create a water storage system Graywater systems can be easily installed, and depending upon the storage capacity, can be used for most water needs as well as fire protection. Since we live where rain is seasonal, water catchment systems are useful, but only if they can store enough water for emergency use. neighborhoods might consider pooling funds to create a back-up water storage system for emergencies and fires.

People on public water systems usually don’t have issues with water fire during emergencies, but people who rely upon wells with electric pumps are the most vulnerable. If a neighbor has a well that is solar-powered, consider that as your water source under duress. Neighbors with swimming pools become a source for both fire-fighting water as well as water for other uses.

Preparing with your Neighbors

Find a place in your neighborhood where firefighters can stage their equipment to defend your homes. If one neighbor has more open, flat space, then that neighbor becomes the firefighter staging ground.

Who in the neighborhood has emergency medical skills? That person becomes especially important when someone gets hurt.

If you need to evacuate, where will you go and how will you get there? Think about this in advance so you don’t panic in the middle of an emergency.

Local sirens, Nixel, SoCo Alert are all ways in which communicating an emergency are essential, but not everyone will have access to the technology, nor hear the sirens. Once the real emergency has been established, neighbors can agree to sound their car alarms to make sure everyone is aware. Then designate individuals to go house to house to make sure everyone is OK or needs help. These procedures are all part of emergency planning systems that your local fire department, and county websites, have available.

It’s time take this risk seriously, clean up, get yourselves emergency-ready, and feel confident that your neighborhood can withstand and survive emergencies together. If nothing happens, then you can relax knowing you are ready for, earthquake, floods…together.

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