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What to do if an unmanaged property violates your home's defensible space

Defensible space ordinances can vary based on what city or county you are in but if a property owner does not comply and does not cooperate with you, call Cal Fire or your local fire department. Butte county Cal Fire is drafting a new proposal which could give them more options to enforce unmanaged properties.

Posted: Oct 19, 2020 7:09 PM
Updated: Oct 20, 2020 9:01 AM

CHICO, Calif. - Defensible space ordinances can vary based on what city or county you are in but a property owner does not comply and does not cooperate with you, call Cal Fire or your local fire department. Butte county Cal Fire is drafting a new proposal which could give them more options to enforce unmanaged properties.

All property owners must abide by weed abatement ordiances in their respective county or city, but not all property owners follow these rules. This is not good, but if you live in the city or the county, there is a process to deal with this

In Butte county, it is Ordinance 38A and it deals with weed abatement. This means the county sends out notices for people to clear out unmanaged property and create a defensible space. If they neglect to do so, Cal Fire will send out their designated fire prevention officer to check the property and often send another notice afterfward. If the property owners still do not comply, a citation will likely be issued.

"We want people to be responsible for their property but also have consideration for their neighbors. Give our resouces the best chance to defend a structure and defend a neighborhood is everyone getting together and providing that defensible space," said Capt. John Gaddie, Cal Fire Butte County.

If you are worried about your neighbor's unmanaged property, talk with your neighbor first to see if there is anything they can do about it or if you are willing to help, to protect your home's 100 foot defensible space.

If they are still unwilling, call Cal Fire's fire prevention number if you live in the county or call the city's fire department if you live within city limits, so they can inspect the property and notify the property owners. 

Cal Fire says they have a new draft proposal in the works with Butte county to give them more of an ability to enforce non-compliant property owners. 

"People are getting a little frustrated because they do take the responsibility to clean their lots, but their neighbors, for whatever reason, don't. So that can, you know, it frustrates people and they want to give their house and their neighbor's house and their neighborhood the best chance of survival during a wildfire," said Gaddie.

If approved, it would provide Cal Fire with more proactive options to deal with neglected properties and it will help create buffer zones between properties if your neighbor's property does not comply with your 100 foot defensible space.

The city of Chico already has an efficient method of dealing with unmanaged properties.

There are 300-400 vacant lots in Chico. These are managed on an annual basis. The city of Chico has a annual deadline of June 1st for property owners to clear their vacant lot. 

The grass must be under 6 inches on all vacant lots.

If the property is 5 acres or less, the entire property much be cleared.

If the property is more than 5 acres, the owner of the property must create a 36 foot firebreak along the edges of their property line. If they decide to disk or scrape the ground bare, the buffer zone they create must be at least 24 feet wide. 

If it is not cleared by the June 1st deadline, the city of Chico will deem the property a public nuisance on the spot and will clear the property for you by paying for a contractor and handing the property owner the bill. 

According to Raul Gonzalez, a fire specialist with Chico Fire, the city's program has been "extremely sucessful."

Rules on managing property and defensible space vary in every county and city. Contact your local fire department or Cal Fire for more information on ordinances in your area.

CLICK HERE for tips on how to maintain your defensible space.

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