Fire Prevention, Creating Defensible Spaces in Borrego


Last updated 1/6/2023 at 10:02am

CalFire is coming to Borrego Springs to educate the community about the County’s Defensible Space laws; and waiving enforcement actions for the removal of combustible materials until July 1, 2023. The meetings will be held at the Borrego Library, Thursday, January 19, at 4 p.m., and Tuesday, February 7, at 5 p.m.

CalFire San Diego Battalion Chief, Alex Elward, is planning meetings for residents to discuss and clarify the Ordinance requirements; coming inspections, and future enforcement.

“One of the problems facing Borrego Springs’ property and land owners is that there have not been major inspections of this kind in the past,” stated Elward, adding, “Adherence to enforcement criteria could come as a costly surprise.

“Therefore, we are starting with educational community outreach and waiving the 30-day response to an inspection until July 1, 2023.

“We are anxious to meet and work with the community on a volunteer process, rather than presenting an immediate financial hardship, which can come from clearing space and vegetation as required by law.

“CalFire is looking for steady progress, not a 30-day citation response for those who cannot afford to clean up their property. An example, would be working with an owner to save money over a period of time, in order to pay for the necessary, improvements,” he reported.

The County of San Diego’s Defensible Space for Fire Protection Ordinance sets forth various requirements property owners must comply with in order to increase the resilience of their properties. Within the unincorporated territory of the County of San Diego, a fire protection district or municipal water district that provides fire protection service unless they have a stricter defensible space ordinance (of which Borrego Springs does not), is subject to the County’s Defensible Space Ordinance.

The former Borrego Springs Fire Protection District, which is now transitioning into the San Diego County Fire Protection District, was relaxed about enforcing the County’s ordinance.

“This is probably because there is no major history of wildfires, home or vehicle fires. However, larger and larger fires are becoming the California norm; and it’s our goal to help the community protect itself from a tragic occurrence,” noted Elward.

The Ordinance requires the removal of combustible materials within 100’ of a structure up to the property line. This includes the removal of dead palm tree fronds, which is viewed as a serious issue in Borrego Springs. Palm fronds are very flammable, and if ignited can spread fire to neighboring homes and structures via its ember showers alone.

Elward explained, that, “One of the issues with compliance to the law is that it can carry a cost. For those with an economic hardship they should take advantage of Defensible Space Assistance Program – Fire Safe Council of San Diego County. In some cases, this can cover the cost of compliance.”

“Defensible Space also exists to provide safety for the fire fighters, entering a potentially deadly situation,” Elward said. “Enforcement is a necessity, because it’s often a few violators that put the entire community at risk. Currently, the County only issues 30-day citations that require voluntary action. However, the County is looking to strengthen enforcement through fines. One of the problems is absentee landowners, who live out of state, or residents that have only a part time or recreational living arrangements.”

The shifts in both firefighting budgets and Defensible Space enforcement is the result of growth in magnitude of wildfires over the past 13 years, due to climate change and Drought. Elward reports that wildfires, like the North County’s-2003 Cedar Fire, which destroyed 2,232 homes, 22 commercial properties, and killed 14, including a fireman, and the 2007-Witch Creek Fire are no longer the precedents.

“While the magnitude of wildfires is concerning, the loss of a single-family home for the occupants is an equally chilling disaster. Given the high cost of housing, insurance and replacement, a house fire may leave a family homeless for a short rebuilding period, or longer.

“So, working with residents by creating safe spaces and getting rid of fire-fueling vegetation that can jeopardize a home is critical,” Elward concluded.

Elward expressed hope that the community will attend the educational outreach meetings; “and we can begin the process of working together to ensure the safety of both property and people.”