When it comes to wildfires, keeping up-to-date with Kern County's ordinance codes about defensible space gives firefighters a fighting chance at protecting affected communities.
And the Kern County Fire Department takes these ordinances very seriously — more than not, they're "guidelines for (people's) safety and for their quality of life," Capt. Tyler Townsend said.
More than 50,000 areas in Kern County fall into state responsibility areas — or the areas in California where the state has primary financial responsibility to prevent and subdue wildfires — and therefore citizens have to comply with regulations set in place by the county and state. In Kern County, ordinance codes require those who live within those areas to perform hazard reduction clearance on their property by June 1 each year.
That is, property owners should clear 100 feet around all structures — also known as the defensible space, which creates a buffer to slow a wildfire from reaching a structure — by removing tree limbs lower than six feet from the ground, maintaining weed control of 10 feet around the property, and gathering any dead leaves, grass or flowers for disposal. The defensible space is necessary for structural survivability during wildfire conditions, according to the KCFD.
Letters are mailed to property owners who live within state responsibility areas before May 1, giving residents time to clear their property and ensure it is up to standards.
Following that deadline, the Kern County Fire Department is expected to begin inspections of properties within state responsibility areas on June 2. Inspectors who are a part of the fire prevention division of KCFD are sent out to properties throughout the entire county to conduct visual inspections of the land, Townsend said.
"They're trying to make sure the required clearance guidelines have been complied with," Townsend said.
If property owners aren't in compliance with the guidelines, a minimum $500 citation may be issued. If a citation is issued, the property owner has 15 days to either resolve the violation or dispute the citation, Townsend said.
Inspectors then go back out and reinspect the properties that were cited, and if they have not resolved the violations, they are fined an additional $1000 — but the citation isn't about the money, it's about ensuring communities are safe.
"These are not arbitrary dates, they're not arbitrary requirements," Townsend said. "By complying, they're able to help ensure a better outcome if there were to be a fire in their community."