YARDS & TREES
Keeping our yards and neighborhoods fire safe involves continuous attention
to the condition of our trees, shrubs, plantings and the ground surrounding
them. This lengthy page describes some important "do's and don'ts" for
residential yard fire safety. Our goal is simple ... let's keep our neighborhood
from looking like this:
(Northern end of the Storrie Fire area, three years after the blaze.)
Living in the Lake Almanor basin means living with the possibility of wildfire.
But residents need not feel overly intimidated by that prospect, for the simple
reason that there are numerous ways that we can reduce our risk to fire.
Fire requires three basic items to exist: fuel, oxygen and heat. Remove any
one of those and the fire goes away. Happily, the item that is easiest for a
property owner to affect is FUEL. If we eliminate or interrupt the fuels that
exist in our yards, we greatly reduce our risk to fire. We can do that by:
- Removing combustible materials from around structures;
- Eliminating combustible debris wherever found in the yard;
- Interrupting fuel paths; and
- Making it difficult for a fire to get into trees.
California law requires that we maintain a minimum area of "defensible space"
around all structures. As of January of 2005, that area extends outward some
one hundred (100) feet from all structures in regions such as ours. This means
that we are legally required to remove natural debris such as pine needles, leaves,
down branches, dead brush, dry weeds or dry grass in that "defensible space" zone.
We also must remove manmade debris, such as construction scraps and just plain
trash from that area, and we must take steps to eliminate continuous fuel paths
between natural vegetation on the parcel (e.g., tree to tree, brush to brush, or
brush to tree).
Firefighters cringe when they see large brush fields or dense stands of trees. In
both cases there is a continuous fuel path from one plant or tree to the next, allowing
a fire to quickly move across an area with devastating results. It is therefore important
that we separate vegetation and trees, to interrupt these fuel paths and help slow down
any fire that might occur.
Shrubs or brush specimens on your parcel should be located AWAY from your house
and separated. Landscaping should emphasize fire resistant plants, and all vegetation
should be well maintained by appropriate watering and removal of dead branches,
leaves and needles.
Trees should likewise be thinned as necessary to avoid overcrowding. Isolated thickets
can be tolerated but continuous crown-to-crown contact over a large area should be
avoided. Overcrowding creates an unhealthy situation for trees, leading to increased
susceptibility to drought, disease and insect infestation. Dead, dying or obviously diseased
trees should be promptly removed wherever they are found. More on the subject of
tree removal is found in a later section of this page.
(An overcrowded stand on the left, with a healthier and safer thinned stand on the right.)
If you have concerns about the health of your trees, or need an experienced eye to
evaluate possible natural risks (such as split trees, bulges in the bark, sap drainage, etc.)
it is recommended that you contact an arborist or a registered forester to obtain
Any accumulation of vegetation, debris or other combustible material that allows fire to easily
progress from the surface into tree crowns is called a "fuel ladder." This typically occurs
when dry grass, brush or down branches are found next to a tree that has branches still on
its trunk all the way to the surface. Such situations are very hazardous and should be
eliminated on all residential lots.
Begin by removing the surface fuels under and around the tree, and then prune away the
lower limbs to create a gap between the surface and the lowest tree limbs. On small trees,
remove both live and dead lower branches up to about 1/3 of the height of the tree. On larger
trees, the lower branches should be removed to give AT LEAST 6 to 8 feet of clearance (i.e.,
you should be able to walk under the tree without having to duck your head). When in doubt,
create greater clearance.
(A fire-susceptible tree on the left, with a properly pruned tree on the right.)
When shrubs or brush specimens are found near trees, it is important to ensure a large gap
between the surface vegetation and the lower branches of the tree. Specific guidelines have
been issued by CalFire on this subject, and they may be found in literature available at the
- Don't let dead leaves or needles accumulate on your roof or in your gutters; these can
become fire starters on your roof in the event that glowing embers blow in from a nearby fire.
- Remove all branches within ten (10) feet of any chimney, and remove all branches that
overhang your roof.
- Have your chimney swept on a regular basis to avoid chimney flue fires; while the chimney
sweep is there, have him inspect the spark arrestor screen to ensure that it still meets CalFire
- Cover all attic and underhouse vents with metal screening meeting CalFire requirements;
this will help keep embers from blowing into those spaces.
Summary of Protective Zones
Property owners at Lake Almanor West must comply with a mix of State and local regulations
when it comes to achieving a fire-resistant yard and residence. Various items dealing with
exterior and yard issues are summarized in this section; new requirements affecting choice of
building materials and interior issues are not addressed here. To ensure clarity, each item noted
below includes a reference to the source document, whether it is a State requirement found in
Public Resources Code (PRC), a Uniform Fire Code (UFC) requirement adopted by the local
fire department or a West Almanor Community Club (WACC) CC&R. A generic illustration (in
map format) of some of these zones follows; please note that the "defensible space" zone is not
drawn to scale, since the recent increase to 100 feet means that most of the average parcel at
Lake Almanor West is now within that zone.
- To avoid structural damage, all trees are excluded within five (5) feet of any concrete footing
or foundation (WACC CC&R 3.19).
- For fire safety, state law prohibits any tree branch closer than ten (10) feet of the outlet of any
chimney or stovepipe (CA PRC 4291.c).
- Similarly, propane tanks must be located at least ten (10) feet away from property lines and
structures, and all combustible materials must be cleared within a ten (10) foot radius of tanks
(UFC 8204.3 & 8209).
- State law requires that a "defensible space zone" be maintained around each structure, out to
a distance of one hundred (100) feet from the structure or to the property line, whichever is
closer (CA PRC 4291.a). Within that zone, all flammable debris, vegetation or combustible
growth is to be removed; however, this restriction "does not apply to single specimens of trees,
ornamental shrubbery, or similar plants which are used as ground cover,if they do not form a
means of rapidly transmitting fire from the native growth to any building or structure."
- Local CC&Rs require that all dead combustible material be removed from the setback area,
which generally extends fifteen (15) feet in from the property line, except for later golf course
lots where the setback line is fifty (50) feet from the back property line (WACC CC&R 3.19).
- Leaves, needles and dead vegetative growth must be removed from roofs (CA PRC 4291.e).
- Each chimney or stovepipe must be fitted with a spark arrestor screen with openings not
greater than 1/2-inch (CA PRC 4291.f).
- Dead or dying limbs that overhang any roof line must be removed (CA PRC 4291.d).
- All vegetation on all lots must be maintained in a neat and natural condition by trimming,
cultivating and managing to encourage healthy conditions (WACC CC&R 3.19).
- All trees on all lots must have lower limbs pruned up six (6) feet from ground level (WACC
CC&R 3.19). To clarify, this requirement applies to trees at are at least eighteen (18) feet
tall; on shorter trees, the lower 1/3 of branches should be removed. (Lower limb pruning is
also required by CA PRC 4291, but only when a structure is present.)
Living in the forest means that trees can be an issue both before and after a home is constructed.
Most of the lots at Lake Almanor West have substantial numbers of trees on them, and it usually
requires some clearing to make room for a new structure. Thereafter, tree removal occurs as
trees become distressed or die, or when tree growth starts to cause overcrowding. In each case,
there are some steps that must be taken to ensure that the proper permissions and permits are
obtained BEFORE anything is cut.
The West Almanor Community Club (WACC) Architectural Committee must give approval before
you can cut any tree over six (6) inches in diameter (where the diameter is measured at chest
height). This initial step applies to ALL situations within the subdivision, including situations where
the property owner has been cited for having dead trees that need to be removed.
In addition, there may be a need to obtain a CalFire permit before cutting trees, subject to the
conditions noted in the following paragraphs. Each permit type noted below is valid for one
full year and is issued at no cost to the residential property owner.
In the situation where initial lot clearing must occur to allow new construction to begin, a State
(CalFire) permit is required. This involves a one-time exemption permit, called a "Less Than
3 Acre Conversion Exemption", which is used when clearing for structures and associated
improvements (driveways, utility lines, septic systems, etc.). The form must be prepared by
a Registered Professional Forester (RPF), who will usually charge a fee for preparation. The
actual clearing must be conducted by a Licensed Timber Operator (LTO). The property owner
must sign the form, and CalFire has up to 15 days to approve the permit. The LTO must be
identified on the form, and must have an approved copy of the permit on-site during the time of
timber operations. The property owner must submit to CalFire a Work Completion Report
within one month of completion of timber operations. General building contractors are not
eligible to perform this work unless that are also Licensed Timber Operators.
When trees need to be removed after a home has been constructed on the parcel, two other
CalFire permits may come into play. In each of these cases, a permit is needed ONLY if the
wood is sold, bartered, exchanged or traded. For example, if the homeowner does not want
to retain the wood and arranges to exchange it for all or part of the cutting cost, then a permit
would be required. On the other hand, if the homeowner keeps the wood (for firewood, fencing
or whatever), then a permit is not required. Also be advised that when a permit is required,
the logging activities must be conducted by a Licensed Timber Operator (who must be identified
on the permit). But if a permit is not required, the homeowner can have the trees cut by anyone
of his choosing (including himself). Given the potential for serious damage or injury, most people
prefer to have an experienced person do the cutting, even if a permit is not required.
In the case where tree removal is limited to those that are obviously dead, dying or diseased,
the homeowner may choose to apply for what is called a "Dead, Dying or Diseased Tree"
exemption. The number of trees removed under this permit cannot exceed 10% of the volume
per acre. Registered Professional Forester services are not required to prepare this form, but
a LTO must be identified on the form and is responsible for all logging activities. CalFire has up
to 5 days to approve this exemption.
Another alternative is a somewhat more flexible permit called a "Removal of Fire Hazard Trees
Within 150 Feet of a Structure" exemption. This permit is used for the removal of selected trees
which may be up to 150 feet from any existing structures that are deemed by the property owner
to be a potential hazard to any such structures that were permitted through the county building
permit process. Registered Professional Forester services are not required, but a LTO must be
identified on the form and is responsible for all logging activities. CalFire has up to 5 days to
approve this exemption.
Specific terms and conditions apply to all CalFire permits, including logging debris cleanup
requirement (which generally must occur within 45 days after the operation). As noted earlier,
a state filing fee is not imposed for any of these permits, but the property owner may be required
to pay a post-harvest yield tax to the State Board of Equalization if the board-foot volume of
timber removed from the parcel exceeds a threshold value. Further information can be obtained
at no cost to residential property owners by contacting a CalFire Forester at 257-4171. A list of
local contacts and contractors for tree removal services is also found at the fire station.