City Council Approves Brush Clearance Ordinance: The fire-safety law bans metal weed whackers in high-risk areas

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Los Angeles -- On Wednesday, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved an ordinance drafted by the City Attorney in conjunction with the Los Angeles Fire Department to increase requirements for brush clearance and fire safety in Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones. The ordinance, called for by Councilmembers Paul Koretz and David Ryu, puts a ban on metal weed whackers in Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones, among other requirements.

"Over the past year we have seen a tremendous increase in the number of fires in our hillsides and with the negative ramifications of climate change, it will be this way for the foreseeable future.  That is why we have taken these long overdue steps to increase safety protocols for brush clearance in the hills of Los Angeles," said Councilmember Paul Koretz whose Fifth District hillside areas include Encino Hills, Benedict Canyon and Bel-Air.  

“As our risk of fire continues to rise in Los Angeles, so must our level of caution,” Councilmember Ryu said. “All it takes is one spark to start a potentially devastating fire. That’s why I worked so diligently on this reform with Councilmember Koretz, the Los Angeles Fire Department, and our hillside communities, and why I’m thrilled to see it approved today.” 

Together, Councilmembers David Ryu and Paul Koretz represent much of Central Los Angeles’ hillsides, from Griffith Park to Bel-Air, which are at a significantly greater risk of brush fire. Between June and September of this year, the Los Angeles Fire Department responded to three brush fires in Griffith Park, one of which evacuated more than 2,000 people. In June of this year, The Portola fire evacuated about 86 homes in the Benedict Canyon neighborhood of Council District Five after a weed whacker’s metal blade sparked a blaze that burned approximately 40 acres of brush. 

Regarding the Portola fire, Councilmember Koretz added "I also want to thank Los Angeles Fire Department for partnering with us to create safer conditions for our hillside residents.  We were very lucky that the Portola Fire was contained relatively quickly thanks to the swift action of the LAFD, but if the brush clearance crew had used other brush cutting tools and had at the very least been carrying fire extinguishers, we could've saved a lot of money and worry."

The ordinance was approved with an urgency clause, which means it takes effect as soon as the Mayor signs it into law, within the next 10 days. It not only includes a ban on metal weed whackers, but also new requirements for brush clearance in Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones (VHFHSZ), including that brush clearance cannot be conducted during red flag days, that proper extinguishing agents be nearby during brush clearance, and others. It also creates new penalties for violations.

Read the ordinance here.

For more information, click here to view BAA news posting on the new Ordinance.

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Very High Fire Severity Zone (VHFSZ) Brush Clearance Requirements has final City Council vote on October 10th

 Images from Benedict Canyon’s Portola Fire in June 2018 that was caused by a weed whacker.

Images from Benedict Canyon’s Portola Fire in June 2018 that was caused by a weed whacker.

The new ordinance is scheduled is schedule for final adoption by City Council on October 10, 2018 (Agenda Item No 4).

Click here to see the City Council File.

Below is the summary of the proposed new ordinance:

SUMMARY (from 12 to 8 provisions): 

SEC. 57.322.1.1.10. ADDITIONAL BRUSH CLEARANCE REQUIREMENTS. All Individuals performing grass or brush clearance activities in the VHFHSZ shall adhere to the following specific requirements:

1. Grass or brush clearance operations shall not be conducted on red flag days. Individuals engaged in grass or brush clearance operations shall not engage in any other activities during their actual clearance of grass or brush.

2. Individuals engaged in grass or brush clearance operations shall not engage in any other activities during their actual clearance of grass or brush. 

3. Individuals engaged in grass or brush clearance operations shall use an appropriate extinguishing agent immediately to extinguish a fire. 

4. All fires, regardless of size, shall be reported immediately via the 9­ 1-1 system to the Fire Department. 

5. A Class 2-A two (2) gallon water fire extinguisher, pressurized garden hose with attached nozzle (fully open), or comparable pressurized Class 2-A extinguishing device, shall be within 10 feet of any grass or brush clearance operation. 

6. Where a gasoline container is present at the site of the grass or brush clearance operation, a minimum 4A 60 BC dry chemical fire extinguisher shall be within 10 feet of the brush clearance operation. 

7. 2 A cell phone capable of dialing 9-1-1 shall be charged and readily accessible to the grass or brush clearance operation. 

8. A safety strap shall be used at all times for any tool or appliance with hot exhaust. Hot exhaust shall not come in contact with any brush, grass, flash fuels, or other flammable material.

PENALTY. A first violation of this section shall be an infraction punishable by a fine not to exceed $250. A second and all subsequent violations of this section shall be subject to the provisions of Section 11.00 of the Los Angeles Municipal Code, including prosecution as an infraction or prosecution as a misdemeanor punishable by a fine not to exceed $1,000, by imprisonment in the County Jail for a period not to exceed six months, or by both such fine and imprisonment. In addition to the aforementioned penalties, any violator convicted under this section, which resulted in a fire, may be liable for any civil cost recovery associated with the fire, as permitted by law.

Sec. 6. URGENCY CLAUSE. Based on the findings set forth above, and that use of metal cutting blades to clear grass and brush is likely to continue to occur within the Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone without the necessary safeguards, the City Council adopts this ordinance as an urgency ordinance that is required for the preservation of the public peace, health and safety. This ordinance shall become effective upon publication.