Vegetation Management

Southern California is known for its beaches, sunshine, and great climate-but also for its brush and Santa Ana winds. One of the ways the City of Orange Fire Department helps the community to stay fire safe is to ensure that overgrown brush does not accumulate throughout the city, and that "defensible space" is established and maintained between urban development and the "wildland" interface.

Weed Abatement

There are generally two cycles per year when weeds are cleared from property lines, road frontages, and buildings. Notices are sent out to property owners notifying them that the vegetation needs to be cleared.

The purpose of the Weed Abatement program is to reduce potential fire hazards due to the accumulation for weeds, dry vegetation and/or rubbish.

Weed Abatement inspections are conducted twice a year. The Spring inspections start in March and the Fall inspections begin in September.
Fire Reserve Officer standing on dirt area

Weed and Rubbish Abatement Standards

  • Areas within 100 feet of combustible structures shall be cleared of flammable vegetation and other combustible growth.
  • Areas within 10 feet of roads or highways shall be cleared of flammable vegetation and other combustible growth. Fifty feet of clearance is recommended.
  • On hillsides where erosion can become a problem, weeds shall be cut and removed so as to leave a maximum of three inches of uncut vegetation as measured from the soil surface.
  • In areas not prone to erosion, weeds shall be cut and removed so as to leave a maximum of three inches of uncut vegetation as measured from the soil surface. All cuttings shall be removed or disked into the ground.
  • Combustible hazards, i.e.- trash, furniture and wood shall be cleared as required to assure fire safety.
  • Any obstruction that hinders the clearance of hazardous combustible material and flammable and combustible vegetation shall be removed.
  • Vegetation trimming, combustible debris and dead or dying plant material shall be removed.
  • Limbs on trees must be removed six feet from the ground to prevent grass fires from climbing up the trees.
  • A 13-foot, 6-inch vertical clearance must be maintained under trees that hang over access for Fire Department vehicles.
  • A second phase, of weed removal, may be required due to climatic conditions that may cause a second growth of flammable and combustible vegetation.
  • Wood chipping used on horse trails, etc. to prevent weed or grass growth shall be limited to a 5-inch depth.
  • Shrubs within 100 feet of combustible structures and 10 feet of roadways shall be limited to two to three feet in height.
  • Remove portions of trees that extend within 10 feet of the outlet of a chimney.

Fuel Modification

The City of Orange enjoys a natural "wildland" environment on the eastern end of the city. This environment affords wonderful views, a feeling of getting away to the country, and plenty of opportunities for recreation. However, the City of Orange, as well as California as a whole, has experienced very real and sobering property losses due to wildland fires. Most of us remember the firestorms of 1993. Orange lost eight homes in the Stagecoach Fire, while Laguna Beach was hit even harder with the destruction of 366 homes. These losses caused the fire service to look long and hard at the safety of structures in the urban-wildland interface.

Fire behavior is dictated by three factors: 1) the lay of the land, 2) weather, and 3) fuel. Southern California experiences some of the fiercest wildland fires in the nation largely due to the chaparral native to the region, and also due to the infamous Santa Ana winds. Fortunately, we can tame fire behavior by controlling the fuel in and around our structures. "Fuel modification" is a term used to describe the transition area beginning with natural vegetation types and amounts, and ending with irrigated, fire resistant vegetation.


Controlling the types, density, and moisture content of plants - or fuel - is called "fuel modification." By modifying the fuel around our homes, we can create a "defensible space" in which firefighters can work. The fuel is modified in four zones: A, B, C, and D (PDF).

The "D" zone is essentially the thinning of the naturally growing vegetation by 30%. All dead and dying plants are removed, as well as undesirable species. This is the zone designed to initially slow the fire, and is generally 50 feet wide.

The "C" zone is thinned to 50% to further slow the fire. It is also 50 feet wide.

The "B" zone is irrigated, and planted with a selected number of fire resistant plant species. Combustible construction is not allowed in the "B" zone. This zone is a minimum of 50 feet in width.

The "A" zone (also known as the "set back" zone) is closest to structures and, as such, is the most highly fire resistant. This zone is 20 feet wide, automatically irrigated, contains no combustible construction, and is pruned to reduce fuel load. Builders occasionally place this zone within the back yards of houses when planning neighborhoods.

Fuel modification zones are carefully designed fire breaks between wildland areas and structures - namely homes. The zones are initially proposed to the fire department by the builders, in blueprint form, when neighborhoods are developed. The plans are then approved by fire department plan checkers just as any other fire protection system would be. Homeowners' associations generally assume the responsibility to maintain those zones as originally approved by the fire department. If the "A" zone falls within homeowners' back yards, the association is responsible for ensuring that the homeowner maintains the approved landscaping (PDF), and that no combustible construction occurs.

Fulfilling Mission

The mission statement of the fire department is "to prevent or minimize the loss of life and property from the adverse effects of fire, medical emergencies, and dangerous conditions created by man or nature." One way this mission statement is fulfilled is by ensuring the safety and well being of families living in the urban-wildland interface. Nature can be fierce and unforgiving. Fuel modification is the most effective step our community can take to prevent loss of life and property in the future.

Contact Information for Questions, Comments, Concerns

Please contact Fire Safety Specialist Dale Eggleston via email for more information, or contact him by telephone at 714-288-2561 Monday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.