Wildfire Hazard Real Estate Disclosure

CAL FIRE provides Natural Hazard Disclosure maps and data for two types of fire hazard areas referred to in legislation as disclosure items in real estate transactions.

SRA Definition/Background

State Responsibility Area (SRA) is defined as follows (see PRC 4125-4137 for details):

Lands exclusive of cities and federal lands regardless of ownership, classified by the State Board of Forestry as areas in which the primary financial responsibility for preventing and suppressing fires is that of the State. These are lands covered wholly or in part by timber, brush, undergrowth or grass, whether of commercial value or not, which protect the soil from erosion, retard runoff of water or accelerated percolation, and lands used principally for range or forage purposes.

Specifically, SRA is not federally owned, not incorporated, does not exceed a housing density of 3 units per acre, contains wildland vegetation as opposed to agriculture or ornamentals, and has watershed value and/or has range/forage value ( this effectively eliminates most desert lands).


SRA Data Limitations

As part of our efforts to implement SRA Fees under Assembly Bill X1 29, CAL FIRE has significantly improved our SRA data. Where appropriate, SRA boundaries were adjusted to match parcel lines as defined by county parcel datasets. Note that in some cases parcel boundaries provided by counties do not appear to be accurate when viewed in relation to air photos. In these cases, we use the parcel boundaries to ensure parcels are correctly determined to be in or out of SRA. We will continue to work to improve SRA data and to maintain consistency with county parcels.


SRA Update Process

CAL FIRE conducts an extensive SRA review every 5 years. In addition, the data are updated biannually to capture incorporations, annexations, and land transactions involving federal ownership.


VHFHSZ Definition/Background

As a result of the Oakland Hills fire, which destroyed some 2500 housing units and caused over $2 billion in damages and 25 fatalities, Assemblyman Tom Bates introduced Assembly Bill 337 in the 1992 legislative session. This legislation was signed by the Governor on September 29, 1992 and became known as the Bates Bill. It added sections 51175-51188 to the Government Code relating to Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones (VHFHSZ). Briefly, it required the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection in cooperation with local fire authorities to identify areas of VHFHSZ's in the Local Responsibility Areas (LRA) of California. Once identified, CAL FIRE was to notify the local authority of the fact, who then had the option of adopting the model ordinance developed by the State Fire Marshal (SFM), adding to or subtracting areas from the identified zone(s), indicating that they already "meet or exceed" the Bates minimums, or some combination of the above. In short, the ordinances adopted require in most cases a "class B" roof for new construction or replacement of existing roofs (subsequent legislation passed in 1994 (AB 3819 - Willie Brown) raises this to Class A after January 1, 1997), plus other fire defense improvements including minimum clearances of 30 feet around structures. Newer legislation (AB 1216 -Vargas and SB 1369 - Kuehl) give additional regulatory requirements associated with amendments to both relevant Govt. and Resource Codes associated with wildfire hazards. These data are based on the original assessments completed in 1998. 25 counties contain Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones, and 33 do not.


VHFHSZ Data Limitations

VHFHSZ data were developed based on a hazard scoring schema using subjective criteria for fuels, fire history, terrain influences, housing density, and occurrence of severe fire weather designed to delimit areas where urban conflagration could result in catastrophic losses. CAL FIRE Units developed initial recommendation maps for areas meeting threshold hazard criteria, and these areas were then reviewed, modified, adopted or rejected by the local fire authority. While in intent the VHFHSZ mapping effort was sound, in application the final adopted areas represent only a portion of the state's LRA that poses significant fire hazards. Additionally, the boundaries of VHFHSZ areas were often determined based on municipal or other administrative boundaries, and consequently may reflect portions of a community that are not actually high hazard areas, but are adjacent to areas that are.

Thus, any use of these data should consider these implementation issues as a fundamental limitation of the data. Further, based on local authority, numerous local government agencies have reclassified lands as VHFHSZ after the original map data was developed, and applied local and/or state interpretation of fire hazard mitigation policies. Consequently, the map data showing VHFHSZ is out-of-date, incomplete, and reflects an inconsistent application of decision rules reflecting physical conditions contributing to hazard. For counties active in updates to VHFSZ, we are making efforts to link directly to local sites reporting current hazard zone data.

 

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