Heads-up: By January 1, 2024; all flammable materials within five feet of any structure in Malibu — now known as “Zone 0” — will have to be removed. That’s because of a new state law affecting all areas in a state-designated “very high fire hazard severity zone,” which includes all of Malibu.
The LA County Fire Department, which provides Malibu’s fire protection, will be responsible for enforcing the new law locally. Their community outreach plan is to explain the new requirements to residents as they conduct this year’s brush clearance property inspections.
The state Board of Forestry & Fire Protection has now developed the guidance, interpretation and regulations needed under this law to create an ember-resistant zone within 5 feet of a structure.
The following items and materials will not be allowed within 5 feet of a house as of Jan. 1, 2024, and must be removed by that date: synthetic lawn, trellis, pergola, shade covering, wood planters, privacy wall, attached combustible fence or gate, combustible storage structures, woody mulch, combustible boards, lumber or round logs, railroad ties, creosote-treated or pressure-treated wood, wine barrel, wood pots, plastic, wood piles, dead plants, pine needles, and leaves.
This image shows the different defensible spaces around a residence, defined for fire-safety purposes. Image Courtesy of UC-ANR (Agriculture and Natural Resources statewide network of University of California)
The following are allowable within 5 feet of a house: rock, pavers, statuary, fountains, cement, mature tree with trimmed branches, parallel fence, irrigated and mowed lawn no higher than 2 to 3 inches, irrigated non-woody plants, and potted plants no taller than 2 feet in a noncombustible pot (ceramic, metal, cement). According to UC Agriculture & Natural Resources Department, “Zone Zero is an excellent location for walkways, or hardscaping with pavers, rock mulch, or pea gravel.”
Items requiring education and expert advice if they’re within five feet of a house: garbage and recycling receptacles, vehicles, HVAC, heat pumps, outdoor kitchens, attached patio covers, portable BBQs, pet, and animal structures.
Defensible Space Zones 1 and 2 currently make up the 100 feet of defensible space around a structure required by law. The new Zone 0 was introduced in Assembly Bill 3074 in 2020, requiring a third zone — Zone 0 — to be made part of the defensible space. Malibu’s State Senator Henry Stern was a co-author of the bill.
Zone 0 will reduce the chances of a structure catching on fire because it reduces the potential for flames or embers to ignite combustible materials right next to the house.
One of the most important lessons learned from the Woolsey Fire and other highly destructive wildfires in the state over the past few years, is that flying embers hitting flammable material is one of the major ways that can cause a house to catch fire and burn down. Experts now realize that embers can be carried more than a mile ahead of a wildfire in strong winds, igniting homes that aren’t even close to the flame front.
Zone 0 is the horizontal area within the first five feet around a house and any outbuildings and attached decks, and stairs. The zone also includes the area under attached decks and stair landings. To be most effective, the zone should also incorporate a 6-inch vertical area between the ground and the building’s exterior siding.
In the past, defensible space strategies focused almost entirely on reducing direct flame contact with the house. Zone 0 is a different approach that will help prevent fires started by embers and/or radiant heat exposure.
The Board of Forestry & Fire Protection pointed out that in the past 10 years, in California, one of every eight acres has burned, 173 lives have been lost, and over 43,000 structures have been destroyed.
The board also pointed out in a presentation that “plant placement is more important than plant type.” It also noted that “all plants can burn, regardless of how they are marketed; and that fire safe landscaping requires maintenance (pruning, irrigation, and clean-up).”
The board recommends selecting “low-growing, open-structured, less resinous, higher-moisture-content plants,” and have endorsed well-maintained native and drought tolerant plants.
The fire department writes: “During a wildfire, thousands of embers can rain down on your home and property like hail during a storm. If these embers land in receptive fuels or become lodged in something easily ignited on or near your house, the home may be in jeopardy of burning. This area is commonly referred to as the Ignition Zone.”
The City of Malibu, using public safety staff and certified volunteers, offers no-cost, no-obligation “Home Ignition Zone Assessment” appointments to residents with individual recommendations on what to do to protect against fire. Visit the online scheduling system at https://veribook.com/ew.jsp?cpUserId=479565&cpAlias=ppZpCFWprK1251&mobileSupport=true#hId=1
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