Wildland Hazard/Building Codes
California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection,
California State Fire Marshal’s Office
On September 20, 2005, the California Building Standards Commission approved the Office of the State Fire Marshal’s emergency regulations amending the California Code of Regulations (CCR), Title 24, Part 2, known as the 2007 California Building Code (CBC).
“701A.3.2 New Buildings Located in Any Fire Hazard Severity Zone. New buildings located in any Fire Hazard Severity Zone within State Responsibility Areas, any Local Agency Very-High Fire Hazard Severity Zone, or any Wildland-Urban Interface Fire Area designated by the enforcing agency for which an application for a building permit is submitted on or after January 1, 2008, shall comply with all sections of this chapter. New buildings located in any Fire Hazard Severity Zone shall comply with one of the following:
1. State Responsibility Areas.
New buildings located in any Fire Hazard Severity Zone within State Responsibility Areas, for which an application for a building permit is submitted on or after January 1, 2008, shall comply with all sections of this chapter.
2. Local Agency Very-High Fire Hazard Severity Zone.
New buildings located in any Local Agency Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone for which an application for a building permit is submitted on or after July 1, 2008, shall comply with all sections of this chapter.
3. Wildland-Urban Interface Fire Area designated by the enforcing agency.
New buildings located in any Wildland-Urban Interface Fire Area designated by the enforcing agency for which an application for a building permit is submitted on or after January 1, 2008, shall comply with all sections of this chapter.
The broad objective of the Wildland-Urban Interface Fire Area Building Standards is to establish minimum standards for materials and material assemblies and provide a reasonable level of exterior wildfire exposure protection for buildings in Wildland-Urban Interface Fire Areas. The use of ignition resistant materials and design to resist the intrusion of flame or burning embers projected by a vegetation fire (wildfire exposure) will prove to be the most prudent effort California has made to try and mitigate the losses resulting from our repeating cycle of interface fire disasters. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) and the Office of the State Fire Marshal (OSFM) revised the mandatory effective date for those areas where local government has responsibility for wildland fire protection (LRA) to July 1, 2008, to enable local government agencies more time to review and accept the fire hazard severity zone maps that will be presented to them formally after the new year.
The existing FHSZ maps are being updated pursuant to Public Resources Code Sections 4201 – 4204 and Government Code Sections 51175 – 51189. CAL FIRE completed the public hearings for the adoption of Fire Hazard Severity Zones (FHSZ) for those areas of California where the state has fiscal responsibility for wildland fire protection, known as State Responsibility Areas (SRA). CAL FIRE’s intent is to complete the SRA FHSZ adoption by December, 2007.
LOCAL VHFHSZ MAPS
CAL FIRE is preparing recommendations for Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones (VHFHSZ) in those areas where local government agencies have Local Responsibility Areas (LRA) and will transmit those recommendations to local agencies in early 2008. During the fire hazard severity zone hearing for SRA, several local government officials asked for clarification of authorities and responsibilities associated with the adoption of these LRA VHFHSZ recommendations. Basic authorities and responsibilities for the LRA VHFHSZ are found in Government Code Sections 51175 – 51189. The purpose of this Government Code chapter is to classify lands in accordance with whether a very high fire hazard severity is present so that public officials are able to identify measures that will mitigate the rate of spread, and reduce the potential intensity of uncontrolled fires that threaten to destroy resources, life, or property, and to require that those measures be taken.
The Government Code chapter defines responsibilities for CAL FIRE and for the local agency. In summary, Section 51178 and 51181 defines the CAL FIRE Director’s responsibility to identify very high fire hazard severity zones, transmit this information to local agencies, and to periodically review the recommendations. In part, Section 51178.5 and 51179 defines the local agency’s responsibility to make the recommendation available for public review and to designate, by ordinance, very high fire hazard severity zones in its jurisdiction. CAL FIRE is taking additional steps to ensure that the recommended very high fire hazard severity zones are as accurate as possible. Draft copies of the proposed VHFHSZ have been under field review and validation since January, 2007. An updated draft LRA recommendation was available this fall, 2007. This update will also reflect the comments received during the SRA FHSZ public hearings that may impact LRA zones.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT CONTACTS
Unit level CAL FIRE staff has been instructed to assist local agencies in the review of the draft map recommendations. In addition to the very high fire hazard severity maps, CAL FIRE has mapped high and moderate fire hazard severity areas. This additional information will be made available to local agencies as part of the draft data and then upon request subsequent to the Director’s recommendation. The California Constitution grants basic authority for local agencies to adopt ordinances. This constitutional authority can be used to adopt high and/or moderate fire hazard severity areas or other wildland urban interface areas within the local jurisdiction. CAL FIRE Local Units also can address issues regarding the Chapter 7A standards. Health and Safety Code 13108.5 (c) and GC 51179 (b) provide insight on flexibility local agencies may have to modify fire protection building standards and defensible space requirements once VHFHSZs are adopted, based on local findings. While these sections of law do not provide exemptions for adopting the maps, they may provide authority to exclude fire protection requirements otherwise triggered by the map designations. The regulations contained in CBC Chapter 7A will be mandatory in SRA FHSZ until January 1, 2008 and by July 1, 2008 for LRA FHSZ, but voluntary and there will be a higher understanding that any new building constructed in a Wildland-Urban Interface Fire Area will be designed and constructed with the intent of lessening the vulnerability of a building to resist the intrusion of flames and burning embers projected during a conflagration or wildfire.