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Fire Hazard Mitigation Updates
FIRE HAZARD MITIGATION
Wildfires are a threat in El Cerrito due to our proximity to the Hillside Natural Area and Wildcat Canyon Regional Park. The Fire Department has made vegetation management and emergency preparedness a priority. To this end, we have been busy overseeing the City’s Vegetation Management Ordinance and engaging in activities to reduce the occurrence of a wildfire in El Cerrito.
Mitigation During Covid 19
The COVID-19 pandemic has created numerous issues for residents. As most of the population shelters in place, dryer weather, summer and Fire Season are approaching fast. Beginning in May, the Fire Department will begin their annual inspection of all properties in El Cerrito and Kensington neighborhoods to check for compliance to the Vegetation Management Standards. This is a yearly program that strives to ensure fire safety throughout the communities.
Many residents utilize arborists, landscapers, gardeners, and similar service professionals to maintain their property. These professionals are deemed essential services and are permitted to work, but only to the limited extent necessary to maintain the habitability, sanitation or the safety of residents through fire safety measures such as cleaning, mowing, pruning or tree trimming as required in the Fire Hazard Reduction Program Policy. This work exemption is strictly to meet Vegetation Management Standards and not for cosmetic or other purposes (such as upkeep).
Everyone is urged to start now in cleaning up your properties and bring them into compliance. Below are some basic guidelines and tips on making your property and home more resilient to a wildfire. You can also click here for a copy of the El Cerrito Resident Vegetation Reduction Check List and here for the City’s complete Vegetation Management Standards.
Vegetation Management Practices to Reduce Fire Hazards
Defensible space is your property’s front-line defense against wildfire and is essential in improving your home’s chance of surviving a wildfire. It is a buffer that you can create and maintain around your home and between the surrounding area. Defensible space is needed to stop or slow the spread of wildfire and protect your home from direct flame contact or radiant heat. Defensible space is important for the protection of firefighters defending your home and it is required by LAW!
Defensible Space Zones*
You are required to maintain vegetation fuels for 100’ around your home or to your property line. There are three basic methods employed to manage vegetation fuels: firebreaks, fuel breaks and ornamental landscaping. A firebreak eliminates ALL flammable vegetation and combustible growth. A fuel break reduces the fuel mass of flammable vegetation and combustible growth, thereby limiting the intensity of fire and slowing its rate of spread. Ornamental landscaping provides a yard or garden with decorative fire resistive plants that are irrigated, maintained and arranged to be aesthetically pleasing, functionally useful and enhance fire safety.
Ignition Resistance Zone extends 5 feet from your home.
- Completely remove dead or dry plants, grass, weeds, leaves, pine needles within this area.
- Remove branches that hang over your roof
- Remove branches 10 feet away from your chimney
- Remove leaves, needles or other ordinary combustible material from your roof
- Clean out your rain gutters of leaves and needles (may be required more than once per year)
- Remove or prune flammable plants and shrubs near windows.
- Remove vegetation, firewood, lumber, and other combustibles items stored under decks or overhangs.
Zone 1 is 30 feet of Lean, Clean & Green extending out from your home, deck and outbuildings
- Remove all dead plants, grass and weeds
- Remove dead or dry leaves and pine needles from your yard.
- Trim trees regularly to keep branches a minimum of 10 feet from other trees or shrubs
- Relocate wood piles into Zone 2.
Zone 2 is 100 feet (or to the property line) of Reduced Fuel extending out from buildings, structures, decks, etc.
- Cut or mow annual grass down to a maximum height of 4 inches
- Create horizontal space between shrubs and trees
- Large mature trees shall be trimmed up 10’ from the ground
- Smaller trees shall be trimmed up 1/3rd of their height up to 6 feet above the ground but no less than 18 inches from the ground
- Remove fallen leaves, needles, twigs, bark, cones, and small branches. However, they may be permitted to a depth of 3 inches
*Cal Fire Recommendations
The Fire Prevention Office will be inspecting all parcels in El Cerrito to ensure that vegetation is managed in a way as to not create a fire hazard. This year, inspections will begin on May 1, 2020. Once notices of non-compliance are mailed, property owners will have 30 or more days to bring their property into compliance prior to being re-inspected.
PARTNERING WITH EAST BAY REGIONAL PARK DISTRICT
After years of discussion and planning, East Bay Regional Parks is in full swing with their fuel removal and reduction on the City’s eastern border to Wildcat Canyon, creating a 200 foot buffer between the canyon and the ridge top homes as well as the rest of the City.
Last year, ECFD met with representatives from the East Bay Parks Fire Division and were shown the extensive work planned for this spring and summer. Additionally, the East Bay Parks Fire Division has been continually working on a fuel break and fuel reduction from Richmond Heights to Kensington since 2019. This work will provide a better defense to any potential vegetation fires originating in the park.
FIRE PREVENTION and brush CLEARING IN HILLSIDE NATURAL AREA & WILDCAT CANYON
In 2019, hearing the resident’s concerns about the fire danger in the HNA, the City Manager directed the Fire Department to work at clearing more brush, dead trees, small eucalyptus trees, poison oak and other unwanted growth. This work was initiated in numerous areas including the King Court area, the Boy Scout Bench area as well Potrero Hill and was over and beyond what is normally completed every calendar year.
|May 2020||May 2, 2020 is designated as “Wildfire Community Preparedness Day.” The Fire Department starts vegetation inspections throughout El Cerrito and Kensington and notifies residents who are not in compliance with the City Vegetation Management Policy.|
|April 2020||Fire crews will begin control burns in the Hillside Natural Area during the month of April. Grasses and ground fuel are still green and moist but will begin to dry out quickly as the season progresses unless there is more rain.|
|June 2019||The Fire Department has completed all the controlled burns in the Hillside Natural Area for the year. We were able to utilize the Delta Camp hand crews for 4 weeks throughout the winter and spring to clear a substantial amount of brush in the King Court, Regency Court and Kent Drive areas. The controlled burns were the final stages for removing the over 100 piles of brush. The Fire Department is currently working with our contractor to look over the recently cleared areas, maintenance, and keeping regrowth of brush to a minimum.|
|May 2019||Fuel reduction on the east side of the City at the boundary of Wildcat Canyon started. Initially, crews from California Conservation Corps cleared a 20-foot path behind the homes to allow surveyors to come in and determine the true property lines between residences and the park. Contractors will be coming behind the Corps to start the actual reduction and removal of brush and trees and creating a 200-foot fuel break.|
Several dead trees and non-native trees were removed and considerably thinned out. The crews have on-site fuel reduction specialists and a wild land biologist checking to ensure that no endangered wildlife is being disturbed. Most of this work will be accomplished by hand and will either be chipped or burned in place. There were some areas approved for the use of mechanical clearing using masticators, which will grind the brush and stumps down to ground level.
PUBLIC EDUCATION & OUTREACH
|January 2020||We continue to promote the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program in the El Cerrito and Kensington communities. Our first session of 2020 was held in January and February of this year. Our second session began during the first week of March. There will be one more full 20-hour certified training session this fall and two 8-hour boot camps, one to be held in May and the other in November.|
|May 2019||The Fire Department conducted a "Fire Safety Educational Walk" in the Hillside Natural Area as part of the Hillside Festival.|
|May 2019||Hosted two community meetings on wildfire safety. See details in April 2019.|
|April 2019||Hosted one community meeting on wildfire safety. Battalion Chief David Gibson presented “Mega Fire - The New Norm.” The topic is fire history, fire safe landscaping, making residences more fire resistant, and steps to be prepared for situational awareness and evacuation, if needed.|
|February 2019||Members of the El Cerrito and Kensington Police and Fire Departments met to plan evacuation routes and develop a combined evacuation map for both communities. The meeting also included discussion and identification of evacuation zones to aid in directing evacuation orders and preliminary discussions about evacuation drill planning.|
City Emergency Operation Plan - The Fire Department continues to lead the effort to update the City’s Emergency Operation Plan. The current draft is approximately 90% complete. Once the plan is completed and adopted, training for staff will commence.
City Staff Emergency Preparedness Training - In 2019, Battalion Chief Gibson worked with City staff and held emergency training sessions on ICS-100 and ICS-700. All City staff have completed this important training on incident command activities.
Social Media - The Fire Department has launched a new Facebook account. You can follow our activities on Facebook at "El Cerrito-Kensington Fire Department".