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Lot Clearing

Clearance Requirements For Unimproved Lots

Regulations pertaining to fire safe clearance on properties within the boundaries of the Ebbetts Pass Fire District originate from two different ordinances which are enforced by two different agencies.

Regulations Pertaining to Improved Properties

In January 2005, new regulations under Cal Fire’s Public Resources Code 4291 became effective. These regulations require that homeowners provide additional clearance around buildings and structures built within the wildland/intermix areas of the state.  This law requires homeowners provide a 30-foot Defensible Space Zone with an additional 70-foot Reduced Fuel Zone around structures.  Cal Fire has primary responsibility for inspection and enforcement of fire hazard reduction regulations around homes and buildings.  See Cal Fire’s form for detailed information.

Regulations Pertaining to Unimproved Properties

In order to help enhance the effectiveness of PRC 4291 requirements and add to the safety of our homes, families, communities and the safety of Firefighters trying to protect homes and property from wildfires, Ebbetts Pass Fire District Ordinance 2020, Section 9 extends the Reduced Fuel Zone concept to the unimproved (vacant) subdivision parcels or lots.

The purpose of extending the Reduced Fuel Zone concept to unimproved lots is based on the premise that modifying the fuel load on a vacant lot will help keep a wildfire from intensifying as it moves.  This modification on a vacant lot reduces heat intensity, reduces flame length and helps keep flames from spreading from the ground to the tree tops.

Ebbetts Pass Fire District Ordinance 2020 Section 9 covers:

  • Unimproved lots or parcels within established subdivisions.
  • An unimproved parcel that is outside the boundaries of a subdivision but adjacent to improved parcels within the subdivision.
  • Modification requirements for unimproved parcels are the same as Cal-Fire’s PRC 4291 requirements for the Reduced Fuel Zone.

The following criteria/explanation has been established so the property owner and the hired worker will know what is required to bring an unimproved parcel into compliance with Ebbetts Pass Fire District Ordinance 2020, Section 9.

The primary goal of our fuel reduction program is to keep fire from going from the GROUND to the CROWN of trees.  The following information will help you achieve that goal.

  1. Cut down and remove dead trees. Remove limbs on cut and already downed trees and dispose of both properly.

If there are standing dead trees, they must be cut down. Newly cut trees and those which have fallen must be cut up and stacked or removed from the lot entirely.  Do not stack next to or under live trees.  Branches from these trees may NOT be left on the ground – they must be removed from the lot.  Dead trees are both a fire and safety hazard.  Contact your local forester for details about bug infested trees.

         2.Remove dead branches and trees which are leaning into or against larger trees.

If dead branches or dead trees are leaning into or against live trees, they must be removed.  Any trees, live or dead, that have fallen into other trees, (ex: “leaners”) must be dropped to the ground, cut up and stacked or removed from the lot.  Dead branches and trees ignite quickly.  If the “fire ladder” has not been eliminated, a fire within those trees will quickly “climb” the ladder of limbs and begin spreading faster, gaining heat and momentum with every tree consumed.

        3.Remove and dispose of all dead tree limbs within 15 feet of the ground. Remove live branches to 6 feet (if tree height is 6 feet or less, remove 1/3 of the lower branches – live or dead.)  You may be required to limb higher depending on slope of land.

The primary goal of our fuel reduction program is to keep fire from going from the GROUND to the CROWN (top) of trees.  Remove ALL dead tree limbs that are within 15 feet of the ground.  Live branches must be removed to give 6 feet of clearance from the ground.  This means that if ANY PORTION of the live limb HANGS within six feet of the ground, the limb MUST be removed.  If there is a slope to the property, you may be requested to limb higher, so there are six feet of clearance between the ground and the first set of branches.  If you are six feet tall and can walk under the tree without bending, you have limbed high enough.  If a tree is six feet or less, remove 1/3 of the lower branches.  Properly dispose of limbs by hauling, chipping or by burning following legally established burning restrictions.

          4.Remove dead branches on ground.

During most winters, dead branches are blown from trees.  Dead branches and pieces of dead branches must be removed from the ground so that they do not help fuel a fire and for the safety of the firefighter.

        5.Remove all dead brush and brush growing under trees and bushes (such as manzanita, buck brush, wild lilac, etc.)

Dead brush, whether under trees, bushes, or lying on the ground, is fire fuel.  The more fire fuel, the hotter the fire and more damage to trees and nearby structures will occur.  Maintain a vertical clearance space of at least 3 times the height of a shrub between any shrub and overhanging tree branch.

As an example, if an entire manzanita or lilac bush is dead, REMOVE THE ENTIRE BUSH.  If a portion of the bush is dead, you may opt to remove only the dead portion.  If a few limbs are dead, removal of those dead limbs from that bush may be sufficient, depending on what is around or above the brush/bush.

         6.Remove accumulations of dead materials and/or flammable ground vegetation from underneath and within manzanita and other brush.

This type of debris occurs because of weather.  Wind causes limbs to break, dead pine needles to blow off the trees.  This is typical “winter fall”.  If this debris is not removed yearly, it continues to accumulate and cause a fire hazard.  If this is removed yearly, it is usually not much of a chore to keep the fire fuel controlled on your lot.  Piles of debris must not be left on your lot – they must be removed.

Dead or live brush removal and removal of debris from under trees slows the progression of fire.                                      7.Thin manzanita bushes. Remove all dead wood from the plant. Remove branches (dead or alive) close to the ground.  Remove all dead manzanita bushes.

Manzanita is highly flammable and volatile. If you wish to keep your manzanita, you must:  remove all dead branches; clear around the bush, or clump of bushes.  A simple guideline is to create space between plants equal to their height.

If manzanita is growing under a tree, and it was to catch on fire, the flames would be three times the length of the plant.  If a plant is 6 feet tall, the flame length would be 18 feet!  In that situation, the manzanita should be removed, or the tree limbed at least 18 feet.

           8.Accumulations and/or piles of dead and dying material must be removed.

Remove all debris lying on ground.   When needles, grass, cones and leaves are raked into piles, the piles must be removed.  Piles of debris are fuels that will carry a small, manageable fire and spread it throughout a lot and into the trees very rapidly.  Downed wood and debris become kindling for a fire.  Limbs will create flame lengths that carry fire into brush and trees.  3” – 4” of accumulated pine needles may be left on the lot forming a “carpet of needles” which helps hold moisture in the ground and helps prevent soil erosion.  If the “fire ladder” has been removed, the pine needles are more easily managed because there is no fire ladder to carry the flames into the trees.  A FIRE LADDER is the means by which a fire travels from the ground via flammable material, into a tree.  Fire traveling to the top of a tree is called “crowning”.  Remove ladder fuels such as live tree limbs, to a height of at least six feet.  A SIX FOOT PERSON SHOULD BE ABLE TO WALK FREELY UNDER YOUR TREES.

          9.Remove dead and/or dying smaller trees growing under and/or within the limbs of taller healthy trees.

This could act as a “fire ladder”.  These small, dying or dead trees are extremely flammable.  If they are ignited, they carry fire very quickly into the trees, gaining heat and momentum with every tree consumed.

        10.Thin saplings and/or small trees.

All of these saplings will not grow to maturity and they create ladder fuels that endanger the health of mature trees.

        11.Cut bear clover and/or ground cover vegetation to a height of 4 inches.

Bear clover, also known as mountain misery is highly flammable.  The taller this native plant grows, the more flammable it becomes.  If you wish to keep the mountain misery, it should be maintained to be no higher than 4 inches. If the bear clover is growing underneath low-growing green bushes, or under saplings, the bear clover should be removed, or remove the bush and/or sapling(s).

        12.Cut ALL dead and/or dying grass and weeds. Dry, dead grass, leaves and pine needles may stay on the ground, but may be no more than 3-4 inches deep.

IN ADDITION TO THE FOREGOING CRITERIA, large areas of brush MUST be reduced.  This can be accomplished in several ways:

  • Create cleared areas or “spaces” around individual bushes.  The size of the cleared area around the bush needs to equal the height of the bush that will remain.  All flammable debris in that area must be removed.  Leaving a pattern of bushes with space between them can be done throughout an entire parcel.
  • Create “islands” of bushes.  Numerous bushes can remain on the parcel in a group (no larger than ten feet in diameter) with a cleared area around the grouping.  The cleared area must equal the diameter of the grouping or “island” of bushes.
  • Create fuel breaks along property lines and within properties, especially along property lines which are adjacent to property with a home, properties which are upslope or properties adjacent to forest lands.  These fuel breaks can be accomplished by removing all brush along a 30 foot strip, property line to property line.  Properly dispose of all cut brush by hauling, chipping or by burning following legally established burning restrictions.

All cut and/or downed debris shall be disposed of by Hauling, Chipping, Burning (following legally established burning restrictions) or other methods of disposal approved by the property owner, by Ebbetts Pass Fire District or Cal Fire.  At NO TIME shall debris be buried on the parcel, deposited on the property of another, dumped into holes on the parcel or covered by pine needles.

If a canopy exists (tops of trees touching or intertwined), canopy must be interrupted.

Before burning always call the Air Quality Control number in San Andreas to ascertain if it is a “burn day”.  Burn Information Line:  (209) 754 – 6600.  You must also have a valid burn permit.

Under certain conditions, i.e. topography or fuel type, the Ebbetts Pass Fire District may require more or less fuel reduction on one parcel than on another.

Fire safety/prevention is every property owner’s responsibility.  Please help us keep your property and our community safe.  Thank you.  ~ Ebbetts Pass Fire District

For more information or assistance please call

 Ebbetts Pass Fire District Fire Prevention

Joan Lark, Prevention Officer

209 – 795 – 7393

To self-inspect your unimproved lot please use our 

Unimproved Parcel Self-Inspection Form.

If you have questions about the pine beetle, please check out our

 Ebbetts Pass Fire District Pine Beetle information handout.