how I can sign up for automatic notifications about fires near me?
In Marin, the “Alert Marin” notification system is used by all fire and law enforcement agencies to make emergency and evacuation notifications when action is needed at a particular address. You must register your phone(s) and address at www.alertmarin.org.
It’s important to understand that you will NOT receive routine notifications whenever the fire department responds to a fire in your neighborhood. Alert Marin is used when there is a threat to lives or a need for evacuation or other action. In most cases, firefighters are able to quickly extinguish fires without the need for evacuations, and no notification will be sent.
Nixle and Twitter, as well as local TV and radio, are also good sources for information but are not the official evacuation notification system. Nixle may be used to provide more general fire information to areas affected by smoke, to help residents of larger areas understand the source of smoke and ease concerns (again, it's NOT the system used to send evacuation notices!).
Learn more at www.firesafemarin.org/evacuation/alerts-warnings
PulsePoint - New for 2020
A new application for mobile devices now available in Marin County is designed to provide the public with real-time fire agency incident information and to help locate CPR-trained people near someone in cardiac arrest. This app can be configured to send alerts to your cell phone when wildfires, structure fires, or other emergencies are occurring in your vicinity - even emergencies that do not require evacuation.
The free PulsePoint app, available on the App Store and Google Play, recently expanded its geographic scope so that Marin residents will have access to real-time fire incident information, and local bystanders in Marin can be alerted to administer cardio pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if needed. When pre-selected, cardiac arrest alerts are sent to participating residents only when an emergency occurs in a public place.
FIRESafe MARIN recommends that all Marin residents register for Alert Marin and Nixle. Pulsepoint can be an informative tool for residents who understand that they don't need to evacuate everytime a fire is burning nearby, but who want to keep informed.
My neighbor has a eucalyptus (or insert any other species) tree and it is an extreme fire hazard. How can I make them remove it?
If you're concerned about your neighbor's tree igniting our home, don't forget that you can take control of the situation by investing in "hardening" your own home. If your home is hardened with ember and fire-resistant design and materials, you won't lose sleep over your neighbor's trees!
If it helps ease your nerves, you should know that the mere presence of trees (even some fire hazardous species like eucalyptus, pines, firs, etc) does not necessarily indicate an "extreme" fire hazard. Single specimens of most tree varieties, including many fire hazardous species, can usually be maintained in a way that minimizes the hazard. Remember that trees don't magically burst into flames, even during a wildfire. Some type of fuel, usually on the ground, carries the fire into the tree. Eliminating these "ladder fuels" is often more important than the tree species itself.
Side note about eucalyptus: The blue gum eucalyptus common in Marin is considered a “fire hazardous” species, yet they can be (and often are) maintained in a state that makes them relatively fire-resistant. By removing vegetation around the base of the trees, removing the bark which peels back annually, and removing small diameter lower limbs up to at least 1/3 of the tree’s height can make a eucalyptus tree much more resistant to igniting during a wildfire. Often times our biggest concern about these trees is the leaves that fall from them onto nearby rooftops - not the tree itself. Contact your local fire department or a licensed arborist for an evaluation of the tree(s) in question.
A licensed arborist should examine any trees you're concerned with and make recommendations on ways to improve the tree's health and fire-resistance.
My neighbor's bushes or tree branches are overhanging our shared property line! make them remove it!
FIRESafe MARIN can't assist with disputes about individual trees and plants between neighbor's (though we're happy to help organize your neighborhood for Firewise USA recognition, and a big part of this program is helping neighbors meet and work together for the common good). We can, however, give some tips. Shrubs that grow on a property line can serve as both landscaping and a property boundary. Well-maintained shrubs can add charm to a yard, but when they begin growing out of hand and infringing on a neighbor’s property, legal problems can arise. How California law deals with property line issues varies by case.
A property owner has the duty to maintain his property so that it doesn’t interfere with his neighbor’s ability to enjoy her property. Negligence, such as failing to trim shrubs on a property line, could qualify as a nuisance and may be a violation of the fire code. Property owners who feel that a neighbor’s shrubs are becoming a nuisance can seek an injunction for removal or trimming of the bushes, although they’ll need to prove that the bushes are creating a nuisance. your fire department may be able to evaluate to determine if a fire hazard exists (see below - it's not always as much of a hazard as you might think). Regardless, it's always best to work with your neighbor to resolve the issue amicably.
Rather than seeking an injunction, however, California law usually allows property owners to remove branches and roots that enter or intrude onto their property. For example, the law allows a property owner to trim branches from his neighbor’s shrub once they extend over his property line. Tree roots that threaten to damage someone's foundations or walkways also may be removed by the individual whose property line is infringed.
Damaging Neighboring Vegetation
Although property owners once had an absolute right to trim vegetation that entered their property line, those rights were curtailed in 1994 in the case of Booska v. Patel. The case didn’t remove a landowner's right to remove encroaching vegetation, but made them liable to act reasonably. While this ruling leaves much of the interpretation of "reasonable activity" up to the court, landowners must now consider how their actions will affect the health of their neighbor’s shrub. Improper pruning or widespread removal of roots that aren’t threatening property isn’t allowed if it kills or injures the shrub.
Shrubs Straddling Property Lines
In most cases, it’s easy to determine who owns a shrub; it’s part of the property where the trunk meets the ground. If a shrub’s trunk straddles a property line -- as is the case with shrubs planted to serve as fences -- it’s owned by both property owners. These mutually owned shrubs can’t be removed without the permission of both property owners. If one owner doesn’t want a shrub removed but the other can prove the bush has become a nuisance, the court may allow its removal.
Help! My INSURER NOTIFied me OF A NON-RENEWAL!
Please see FIRESafe MARIN's insurance information webpage at https://firesafemarin.org/insurance and FAQs.
The following information is provided by United Policyholders (www.uphelp.org) and FIRESafe MARIN
If you are one of the many Californians whose insurance company had notified you they will not be renewing a policy on your home, don’t panic, but start shopping ASAP. By law they have to give you 45-days notice, and you may need that much time to get them to reverse their decision and/or find a replacement policy you can afford.
In most parts of the state, you still have buying options and insurance companies are still competing for your business. But if you live in a brush-heavy or forested area that’s been hit by recent wildfires, it may be hard to find a company willing to insure your home. When you find a replacement policy, it will probably cost more but provide less protection than your old policy. It may be through a “non-admitted” insurer.* These types of companies are picking up customers that “admitted” (well-known brand) insurers are dropping.
United Policyholders may be able to help you shop and deal with this unfortunate situation, and they are working on initiatives to fix it. To learn more about the reasons why so many insurance companies are reducing the number of homes they’re insuring in parts of California, visit the Advocacy and Action section of uphelp.org.
- Act quickly! You have a very limited timeline to argue for a decision reversal!
- Contact your local fire department and request a wildfire hazard inspection immediately. They may be able to inspect your property, give you a list of corrections, and then once you complete the required work, write a letter attesting that your property meets fire codes and standards. Note: your property MUST meet defensible space standards to the letter or the law before the fire department will write this letter! You should consider making home hardening upgrades immediately as well.
- Contact your current insurance company and ask them if there are improvements you can make to your home that will help qualify you for a renewal. Give them your best arguments for keeping you as a customer. If you bought your expiring policy through an agent, ask him/her to go to bat for you with the company.
- NOTE: If your insurer did not give you 45 days notice, or their reasons for dropping you seem unfair, seek help from the California Department of Insurance (CDI) at 1-800-927-HELP, www.insurance.ca.gov.
Limited circumstances where an insurer must renew your policy:
- You have a policy with a guaranteed renewal provision. A few companies offer this. Some AARP members who bought through The Hartford have this protection.
- You lost your home in a declared disaster within the past two years: CA Insurance Code at section 675.1 gives disaster victims the right to one or two renewals when their policy comes up for renewal.
- Your home was damaged in a declared disaster with the past two years.
I need to remove a dead tree or cut vegetation around my home. Who can I hire to do this work?
See www.firesafemarin.org/contractors for a list of contractors who've completed basic training in wildfire preparedness. Any licensed tree company or arborist should do fine for tree removals. We don't typically recommend specific contractors, and have had good experiences with nearly every tree service you'll find in the "yellow pages" or Google. Ensure that they are a local, licensed contractor, and carry insurance.
Grass cutting can be accomplished by most tree services also, however a landscaping service is fine, too. Be sure they carry insurance. Grass cutting should be done with string trimmers, and should occur only in morning hours, and never on a "Red Flag Warning" day.
Can I hire your goats to clear my back yard?
We don't own goats. FIRESafe MARIN and other local agencies contract with private goat herders to reduce vegetation hazards on large parcels. Goats are usually only cost effective for larger properties of 5-10 or more acres due to transportation cost and logistics. In most cases, for small properties of 1-5 acres or less, manual weed clearng with weed eaters or mowers is more cost effective.
Who can I hire to clear weeds from around my house?
Most homeowners need a landscape or tree contractor to clear grass, weeds, and brush from around their home. See our contractor's page - www.firesafemarin.org/contractors for links to local contractors who've received basic training .
Our property line is 10’ from our home and there are several properties adjoining, all with overgrown vegetation. Do our neighbors have responsibility to maintain defensible space on their land adjoining us?
Some Marin fire agencies have adopted fire code language that may require neighboring properties to provide some vegetation clearance to protect their neighbor's home. State law does not necessarily require this. FIRESafe MARIN encourages neighbors to work together and to grant permission to their neighbors to work on adjoining properties to gain defensible space. Contact your local fire department for an interpretation of the fire code that applies to your neighborhood.
Can you suggest fireproof clothing including boots, head gear (helmet), fire blankets and tarps, goggles, mask, gloves fire suit etc?
FIRESafe MARIN recommends that evacuating residents wear long cotton or wool clothing - not too tight or too loose fitting - for evacuation. The fire resistant "Nomex" clothing worn by firefighters is expensive and largely unnecessary for evacuation. Sturdy leather boots, leather gloves, jeans, and a heavy flannel shirt are sufficient. A helmet from a hardware or safety store, along with tight fitting but breathable goggles are fine. You don't need any special fire resistant varieties, unless you'll be working as a firefighter.
I received a NOTICE from the Fire Department that SAID TO COVER MY WOODPILE WITH FIRE RESISTANT MATERIAL. What is that?
The law (14 CCR § 1299.03) states that exposed firewood within 30' of structures should be covered by a "fire resistive material" but does not specify which materials comply. To best protect firewood from igniting from embers, it should be moved inside a well-sealed, protected structure (a "hardened" garage or shed with defensible space, sealed doors, and screened vents for example). If this is not an option, move the pile at least 30’ from any structure and cover with a tarp that complies with, at a minimum, the NFPA 701 Method 2 standard. Typical "poly" tarps available at a hardware store are not adequate, as embers may burn/melt through them.
While we don't have a specific recommendation for a vendor or brand of tarps, this may be a good place to start:
A tarp covering must be securely fastened, to prevent embers from finding their way to the woodpile even during the strong winds associated with wildfires. Also, be sure to check the tarp's integrity annually - long term performance when exposed to UV is unknown and may vary from product to product.
Don't forget that this code also requires all exposed woodpiles to have a minimum of ten feet (10 ft.) of clearance, down to bare mineral soil, in all directions.
It's worth noting that this code, passed at the state level, is based on decades of firefighter observations of home ignitions during wildfires as a result of woodpiles.
When I went to purchase a Vulcan Vent (or Brand Guard, Embers Out, etc) I was told that contractors are not recommending this product or others like it because it does not really allow for air-flow and that it is not correctly engineered. I was told this by the person selling the product, is that correct?
This is incorrect - a half-truth at best. Some modern houses are engineered to require a precise amount of ventilation. Most homes in Marin are much older, and their vent openings were not calculated so precisely (if at all). If you have a brand new home that had the ventilation calculated exactly to the square inch, then it's true, these vents might reduce airflow and require a small number of additional vents to be installed to bring the airflow back up to where it was. Keep in mind that many of these newer homes ALREADY HAVE EMBER RESISTANT VENTS, since these vents have been in common use since 2008 on new construction.
So, yes, these vents may move slightly less air than older vents. Many homes have more than adequate airflow, so it's not going to cause problems. If there were inadequate airflow, it's usually quite easy to add additional vents to make up for the reduced flow through ember resistant vents. We strongly recommend that these vents be installed on all homes in Marin's WUI and adjacent areas - they are approved by the State Fire Marshal, and any contractor that recommends otherwise is likely just unfamiliar with them or unwilling to do the extra work to add new ventilation.
Bottom line: ember and flame resistant vents and vent covers save homes. Install them.
I am considering backing up my ⅛ inch vent screens with 1/16 inch screen. However, I am concerned about the resulting decrease in airflow.
Are you considering additional screening for attic and crawl space areas? Particularly in the more temperate climates where we live, attic spaces are typically warm spaces and therefore dry spaces, so some decrease where airflow is otherwise currently adequate shouldn't be a problem. Moisture related degradation problems could develop should a roof leak occur, but if that were to happen, even ventilation to code may not be sufficient. With crawl spaces, it would depend on soil moisture conditions, but there are other mitigation strategies that could be used in crawl spaces that could dramatically reduce the amount of required venting. For both attics and crawl spaces adding vents is always an option, although usually not a very satisfying one.
You will note that in the IBHS-NFPA one-page document (here), 1/8-mesh mesh is recommended - this mesh size is much better than 1/4-inch in reducing the number and size of embers, and isn't quite so hard to become plugged with wind-blown debris. I prepared this document when I worked for IBHS and based the recommendation on experiments we conducted on the vulnerability of vents to the entry of embers. For both attics and crawl spaces, we suggest that you determine if combustibles (e.g., boxes of stuff, magazines) are generally stored there. This would make ignition from ember entry more likely. It would also be helpful to know the type and location of the vents in question. Vents were more or less vulnerable to ember entry depending on these factors. If you are interested, a research report that discusses these issues can be found at firesafemarin.org/vents
Is the cost of these ember and flame resistant vents worth the money?
- Through-roof vents (off-ridge or ridge) that have a propensity to collect needle and / or leaf debris at the inlet to the vent. Embers can ignite this debris and flames impinging on the vent inlet could be expected.
- A gable end vent on an exterior wall with combustible siding material. If the siding ignites, flames could travel up the wall to the vent and under-eave area. This vertical/lateral flame spread to reach the vent can happen faster than the fire can burn through the siding and sheathing. You will have to judge how likely it will be that the siding will ignite. Does the home have a good defensible space, including near-home zones (horizontal and vertical)? If "yes", then maybe embers are the only thing the vent will have to resist. Is a neighboring home within 35 or so feet? If "yes", then that home may be the threat if it ignites.
- Vents in the blocking of open-eave construction. See the above explanation.
- A crawl space vent, particularly if the near-home (zero) zone has a lot of combustible materials in it.
I notice on your site that you recommend composite decks for fire safety. Where do you get that information? I didn’t believe you, so I took a torch to a small piece and it burned just like wood. Why aren’t you recommending ceramic, or cement tile like FEMA?
Synthetic decking materials have proven more resistant to ignition than wood surfaces. Taking a torch to any material is not a realistic ignition source, since wildfires typically ignite structures from firebrands or embers - with significantly different characteristics than a torch's flame. Synthetic decking materials have proven more resistant to ignition than wood surfaces. Taking a torch to any material is not a realistic ignition source, since wildfires typically ignite structures from firebrands or embers - with significantly different characteristics than a torch's flame.
Our information comes from real-world experience and observations looking at thousands of structures that either burned - or more importantly, survived - wildfires. Validated and peer-reviewed research at IBHS backs up our findings and observations. See these resources: www.firesafemarin.org/home-hardening/decks
Tile and concrete are fine choices if your building and budget can accommodate them.
I want to volunteer or help FIRESafe MARIN. How can I help?
We recommend that you attend a FIRESafe MARIN meeting to get a sense of what we do, share your experience, and see if there are volunteer or other opportunities for you to help. Meetings are typically the second Friday of the month in Novato. See www.firesafemarin.org/about/meetings for details. In your own neighborhood, organizing a Firewise USA site can be a great way to get involved and make your community safer.
Is there any way for a citizen to find out if there is a Red Flag warning for Marin, other than driving by a sign posted on a street?
In Marin, Fire and Law enforcement agencies will use Nixle to send out general messages and alerts to large areas. Nixle will be used to distribute messages about Red Flag Warnings (which are determined by the National Weather Service). You should also register for Alert Marin to receive evacuation and emergency messages when an action is required at your address. FIRESafe MARIN may send out email announcements related to Red Flag Warnings for Marin - register for our emails here - but please understand that our messages are educational, and will include tips on how to prepare. Nixle is the official system used to distribute informational messages from Marin agencies. Local newspapers and TV news outlets announce these (and call other weather warnings) as well. On the FIRESafe MARIN homepage, you’ll find a weather section (scroll down) with a continuously updating alert image and links to the NWS website as well.
There are several apps available for smartphones that offer to notify users when a warning is issued in their area. These are good for all types of weather warnings issued by the NWS (eg flood, storm, fire-weather, etc).
Has anyone told Fire Safe Marin that it rained this week? Why are you issuing a Red Flag Warning?!
A Red Flag Warning is issued by the United States National Weather Service, not FIRESafe MARIN. All Red Flag Warnings are related to predicted weather and fuel moistures, and weather and fuel conditions must meet specific criteria. A small amount of rainfall during the summer and fall months usually not increase live or dead fuel moistures significantly. Current knowledge of fuels and fire behavior tells us that live fuel moistures can still at a critical level, and dead fuels will dry to their pre-rainfall level within 10 hours during a low humidity wind event.
My neighbor is using a charcoal barbecue (or, is it safe to use a charcoal barbecue during fire season)
A charcoal barbecue can be safe when used properly. Marin residents should never use the charcoal barbecue when it's windy, or when fire weather is extreme (you can monitor fire weather at www.firesafemarin.org/fire-
Always keep a charged garden hose nearby (with a "squeeze grip" nozzle) when barbecuing, and make sure it's long enough to reach around all corners of the building. If you need to move the hose, be careful not to knock the barbecue over! Keep the hose in place for at least 12 hours AFTER cooking to allow the coals to cool. Only empty the ashes into a metal container.