In some ownerships, certain limited fire protection facilities can usually be found. Sometimes their real purpose is for land management (e.g., ranch roads for salting cattle or timber access roads). In other cases they were built specifically for fire protection (e.g., firebreaks and fuel breaks, helispots, water cisterns). Only rarely, however, and in very limited areas, have these facilities been adequate to protect nearby structures from the danger of conflagration (Los Angeles City-County Fire Bd. Inquiry 1971, Green 1977). Two basic and several secondary reasons account for lack of fire protection in these areas. One is the sheer magnitude of the problem in reference both to area and to cost. California has between 9,000,000 and 20,000,000 acres of chaparral, and between 45,000,000 and 50,000,000 acres supporting other wildland vegetation. Many other States have similar vast areas of forest, brush, and range lands. Depending on type of vegetation, topography, and method used, the cost of treating an acre for fire hazard reduction ranges from $.50 to $500 for initial treatment and from $5 to $50 per year for maintenance. 10
The second reason for lack of fire protection is the increased hazard of these areas because of Federal and State policies of total fire exclusion, starting in the early 1900's. This policy has been modified only slightly to allow a limited amount of controlled burning for land management purposes. But fuel loadings-especially dead fuels-have built up to much higher levels than under primeval conditions. Thus fires continue to reach conflagration proportions regularly in spite of greatly improved firefighting capabilities, and the amount of treatment required to reduce the hazard to an acceptable level is considerably increased (Green 1977, Hanes 1974, Houts 1974, Montague 1974, Wilson 1974).
Certain legal constraints contribute to the problem of off-site fire hazards to the wildland residence. Some of these inhibit fire hazard reduction work generally, both on-site and off-site, while others pertain to the rights of adjoining property owners. Among the constraints that inhibit the work are liability laws and environmental protection statutes. The rights of adjoining owners affect the required clearances around structures located on small lots or those otherwise too close to the boundary (Los Angeles City-County Fire Bd. Inquiry 1971, Task Force on California's Wildland Fire Probl. 1972).
So far, fire hazard reduction and fuels management activities have been viewed by the courts as proprietary actions that benefit only the property owner-be it the government or a private owner. As such, any harm resulting to any other person (e.g., escaped fire, air pollution, drifting or translocated herbicides) imposes a liability, either civil or criminal or both, on the person or agency performing the act. Although entirely in keeping with the Anglo-American legal tradition, this interpretation completely ignores the public protection aspects of the activity. In the United States, most fire protection, other than that of some highly specialized industrial systems, is supported at public expense and is generally treated in the legal system as immune from liability in the absence of malice or gross negligence. Reduction of wildland conflagration hazards is an outstanding exception to this general rule (Task Force on California's Wildland Fire Probl. 1972).
The concept that fuels management activities are proprietary has inhibited such activities on private land in another way: All levels of government prohibit the expenditure of public funds for a private benefit. This is entirely proper, but it again ignores the public benefit to be derived, in addition to any private benefit, from the kind of activities in question. As a result a Federal, State or county fire department or forestry agency cannot assist a private property owner in other than a purely advisory capacity in fire hazard reduction except when a clear and present danger exists (Task Force on California's Wildland Fire. Probl. 1972).
Environmental protection laws (e.g., air pollution control, water quality control, pesticide control) are for the most part narrowly single purpose in concept and execution. Such laws rarely recognize relative degrees of public hazard from sources other than those to which they directly pertain. Fire hazard in rural and wildland areas easily can be a much greater threat to public safety than temporary air pollution from a prescribed fire, the killing of a few ornamental plants by an aerially applied herbicide, or temporary water contamination, for example. However the conflicts of law involved are so serious as to make fire hazard reduction work extremely difficult to accomplish (Los Angeles CityCounty Fire Bd. Inquiry 1971).
The California Public Resources Code (Sect. 4291) requires the clearance of flammable vegetation for 30 feet on all sides of any structure, or to the property line, whichever is nearer. This law works reasonably well, assuming adequate personnel for enforcement are available, for the true rural residences at which it was originally directed (e.g., farms, ranches, mountain cabins). It is almost totally ineffective for the rural and mountain subdivisions which have become common in the past 10 years, at least until all the lots therein are developed with houses on them. As a consequence several cities and counties, most notably both the City and the County of Los Angeles, have enacted local ordinances extending the distance involved and imposing the requirement regardless of the property line. In most of the wildlands of the State or elsewhere throughout the country, however, the owner of a structure on a small lot or one which has been constructed less than 30 feet from the property line, cannot legally obtain fire protection clearance from the adjoining property owner (Task Force on California's Wildland Fire Probl. 1972).
Hazard reduction on large areas would be prohibitively expensive. Its use is, therefore, limited to relatively small areas (seldom larger than a few hundred acres) in locations where the values to be protected are high (e.g., downslope or upwind from a small community). Fuelbreaks are also expensive, but their cost-benefit ratio over the millions of acres of concern is much more favorable, especially if they are planned, built, and maintained for multiple use (i.e., fire protection, recreation, livestock grazing, wildlife management, water yield) (Los Angeles City-County Fire Bd. Inquiry 1971, Orange County Bd. Sup. 1976, Green 1977, Stallings 1970).
Because of the expense and its purpose-to protect the public-most fuels management work is done by public agencies. When it is done on publicly owned land it generally requires only a budget justification insofar as the legislative body is concerned. For some agencies, for example, a parks department, however, a policy change may be needed. Fuelbreaks cannot always be located entirely on public land, but they lose most of their effectiveness if left open-ended. Therefore, in order for a system to be completed, or in some cases even begun (e.g., the Santa Monica Mountains in Southern California), the fuelbreak may often have to cross private land. An economic as well as a legal problem is created. This problem can be solved in any of several ways: (a) the public agency purchases the necessary strip of land (but purchase is seldom feasible unless the land is going to be used as a park or serve some other public function); (b) the agency acquires an easement or special use right-of-way at no or nominal cost, and the cost, if any, is paid either directly or by tax credit (Howard and others 1973, Stallings 1970).
The propriety of expending public funds for right-of-way access or for labor and materials to build and maintain fuelbreaks across private land is often questioned. Although the question can almost always be answered on the basis of an individual project, it would be much more logical to answer it once and for all by legislative policy. The same could be said for block hazard reduction or vegetative type conversion so long as a significant proportion of the benefits of the project could be shown to be for fire protection (Orange County Bd. Sup. 1976, Task Force on California's Wildland Fire Probl. 1972).
Proposed Standards: Build primary fuelbreaks (300 to 400 feet wide) on all main ridges, including motorways and helispots, and secondary fuelbreaks (minimum width of 200 feet) on key side ridges; evaluate the benefits to be gained from block treatment or type conversion of all critical areas upwind or downslope from communities, subdivisions, recreation sites, and other areas.
Vegetation clearance around structures is a special matter which probably requires legislative action at both State and local levels. California law requires such clearance for 30 feet and authorizes the State's Director of Forestry to require up to 100 feet if conditions are found to be extra hazardous. This statute has three weaknesses: (a) it cuts off at the property line if that is nearer than the 30 or 100 feet; (b) the Director's authority to delegate the determination of a need for a 100-foot clearance is unclear and has, therefore, never been exercised; and (c) no method or standards for determining ``extra hazardous conditions' are provided (Task Force on California's Wildland Fire Probl. 1972, Lowden and Degenkolb 1972).
A very few local governing bodies have overcome the first defect in the State law by ordinance. These brush clearance ordinances operate in much the same manner as do the more common weed abatement ordinances for vacant lots. In effect, they declare brush or weeds on both the residence property and adjoining property to be a public nuisance because of fire hazard and require the abatement of the nuisance. Many more local jurisdictions could use similar ordinances profitably. The second and third defects could be quickly remedied by legislative action authorizing delegation and recognizing fire hazard severity classification as the standard (Los Angeles City-County Fire Bd. Inquiry 1971, Task Force on California's Wildland Fire Probl. 1972, Lowden and Degenkolb 1972).
Proposed Standards: Review laws, ordinances, regulations, and other measures related to wildland fire protection on the basis of recent scientific and technological knowledge, while discounting as much as possible emotionalism, fear, and legal precedent.
Such systems, to be effective, require detailed planning and large expenditures of manpower and money. Although not foolproof they have proved their worth on many occasions, and those concerned with the fire safety of homes located in or near the wildlands will find it worthwhile to push for construction and maintenance of these systems (Pacific Southwest For. and Range Exp. Stn. 1963, Task Force on California's Wildland Fire Probl. 1972, Green 1977, Lowden and Degenkolb 1972).
Proposed Standards: Ensure that fire defense systems are adequate to break broad expanses of vegetative fuels into manageable parcels, provide rapid and safe access for manpower and equipment for the quick suppression of fires, and provide facilities to replenish water supplies for fire trucks and helicopters.
Under current practices of the Red Flag Fire Alert System, the public is usually not alerted until critical fire weather has arrived. Even then, there is no assurance that more than a small segment of the public is notified because agencies rely almost exclusively on commercial radio and television to broadcast information about critical fire weather. Weather forecasts published in newspapers and broadcast by radio and television seldom provide the public with enough advance warning to be of any significant benefit. Therefore, public notices made sooner-even if they proved to be false alarms and had to be cancelled, would probably be useful. Additional means of disseminating alert notices to the public need to be explored (Orange County Bd. Sup. 1976, Task Force on California's Wildland Fire Probl. 1972, Lowden and Degenkolb 1972).
Proposed Standards: THE PROPERTY FIRE 24 NOTIFICATION CONDITIONS. CRITICAL AREAS WEATHER ARRIVAL HOURS ADVANCE AFFECTED SUCH POSITIVE OF AT
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