Protecting Your Home From Wildfire

Home with Mt Tam

Over the past few years we have all seen the devastating impact of wildfires. To help protect your family, friends, homes, businesses and community the San Rafael City Council adopted new vegetation standards as part of our Wildfire Protection Action Plan. Fire knows no boundaries and therefore vegetation standards now apply to all structures and property Citywide.

Vegetation Standards are Required by Law in San Rafael

Property owners have a year-round responsibility to maintain their vegetation in an effort to reduce wildfire risk. We are here to help you navigate the responsibilities of property owners to comply with local requirements (San Rafael Municipal Code Chapter 4.12). The San Rafael Fire Department offers year-round assessments to help property owners understand where their property might be at risk. We encourage residents to take advantage of the various resources available to help you comply and avoid any enforcement action. If you rent or lease, please review the terms of your lease and work with your property owner to achieve compliance.

If you received a pre-citation or citation notice because of a wildfire hazard, please review our FAQs  and resources available to assist you in complying with our safety standards. If you have already corrected the hazard, please email us your photos.

Defensible Space and Home Hardening

Defensible space is essential to improve your home’s chance of surviving a wildfire. It’s the buffer you create between a building on your property and the grass, trees, shrubs, or any wildland area that surround it.  This space is needed to slow or stop the spread of wildfire and it protects your home from catching fire – either from direct flame contact or radiant heat. Defensible space is also important for the protection of the firefighters defending your home.

Home hardening incorporates building construction and vegetation management. Appropriate building materials and related design features must be considered. Home hardening and maintaining defensible space reduce the chance of ignition from flying embers, flames, or radiant heat.

How Do I Get Started?

  1. Read our Frequently Asked Questions below to get started
  2. Contact the Fire Department for additional questions or schedule a Fire Hazard Assessment through the form at the bottom of the page.
  3. For additional information on home hardening, please visit FireSafe Marin’s information page on home hardening.

Frequently Asked Questions

Most homeowners need a landscape or tree contractor to clear grass, weeds, and brush from around their home. See the contractor’s page at FireSafe Marin – for links to local contractors who’ve received basic training.

UC Marin Master Gardeners –

Marin Chapter California Native Plant Society –

San Rafael is a Tree City –

Fire Smart Planting –

  • Juniper
  • Bamboo
  • Acacia
  • Italian Cypress
  • Black Sage
  • Chamise/Greasewood
  • Chaparral Pea
  • Giant Chinquapin
  • Coyote Brush
  • California Sagebrush
  • Scrub Oak (brushy oaks)
  • Bluegum Eucalyptus
  • Gorse
  • Pampas Grass
  • French, Scotch, Portugeuse, and Spanish Brooms

Home hardening helps reduce fire risk by increasing your home’s resistance to heat, flames, and embers though the use of building materials and installation practices that help protect the vulnerable elements of your house. Several components of the home should be addressed, including the roof, gutters and eaves, vents, siding, windows and doors, and decks, fences, and other attachments. Taking action to harden your home can help reduce the risk of fire damaging your home and is a crucial step in adapting to wildfire.

A home’s survivability in a wildfire is largely based on the building materials, design features, and nearby landscaping. Homes lost to wildfire are most often ignited by embers or small, low-intensity fires. Ember ignition can occur when embers enter the building through vents or an open window. Once inside, embers can ignite furnishings or other combustible materials stored there. Ember ignition can also occur when embers accumulate and ignite combustible parts of the building, such as a wood shake roof, combustible decking, or debris accumulated on a roof or in a gutter. Vegetation or other nearby combustible materials can be ignited by embers, causing a spot fire and subjecting a portion of the siding, windows, or doors to fire.

  • Clean roofs, gutters, and vents of dead leaves, pine needles, and debris.
  • Enclose or cover gaps over 1/8 inch with metal mesh. This includes vents, eaves, and soffits.
  • Screen or box in areas under patios and decks to prevent debris from accumulating. Remove anything stored underneath.
  • Move combustible material away from exterior walls.
  • Prevent ember penetration: Seal gaps around openings and reaffix missing shingles.
  • Install spark arrester on chimneys (even if the chimney is not used).
  • Consider replacing or treating combustible building materials, such as wood shingles, wood siding, and poorly maintained wood decks or steps.

Yes, San Rafael code requires all property owners to maintain defensible space. Some other Marin fire agencies have also 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. San Rafael and FIRESafe MARIN encourage neighbors to work together and to grant permission to their neighbors to work on adjoining properties to gain defensible space.

If it helps ease your nerves, you should know that the mere presence of eucalyptus trees 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.

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.

See 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.

Adequate spacing between vegetation and between combustible materials is crucial to reduce the spread of wildfires.
There are two types of spacing to be aware of.


  • Remove all tree branches at least 5 feet from the ground
  • Shrubs can act as a fire ladder or bridge that spreads fire to trees so, maintain adequate spacing between shrubs and trees.
  • Maintain at leas a minimum vertical clearance of 3 times a shrubs height underneath the canopy of trees.


Horizontal spacing depends on the slope of the land and the height of the shrubs or trees. Since fire moves faster up slope, greater plant and tree spacing is required on steeper slopes.

  • For flat to moderate slope of less than 20%, keep spacing between shrubs at a distance of at least twice the shrub’s width and keep spacing between trees at least 10 feet.
  • For mild to moderate slopes of 20% to 40%, keep spacing between shrubs at a distance of at least four times the shrub’s width and keep spacing between trees at least 20 feet.

Fire prevention experts have identified zones (areas around your house) that should be improved to reduce fire risk.

Zone 0: Immediate Zone (0-5ft from structure)

  • Remove accumulated leaves, needles and dead vegetative growth from the roof, gutters, decks, porches, and stairways.
  • All vegetation in this zone shall be well-irrigated and free from dead or dying material. Trim to avoid contact with structure.
  • Maintain adequate space between tree canopies. Remove all dead and dying branches.
  • Remove all Combustible Vegetation. Remaining plants shall not be continuous. See Remove Combustible Vegetation section.
  • Avoid fire-hazardous plants, particularly under or near windows.
  • Mulch should not make contact with structure. Rock and pavers are encouraged.


Zone 1: Intermediate Zone | within 30

  • Remove all Junipers, Bamboo, Acacia, and Italian Cypress.
  • Remove all vegetation within 10 feet of chimney or stovepipe.
  • Keep woodpiles and other highly combustible material at least 10 feet from structures.


Zone 2: Extended Zone | within 100

  • Remove lower tree branches within 5 feet of the ground, not to exceed ¹/3 of the tree’s total height.
  • Cut and remove grasses and weeds to a maximum height of 3 inches.
  • Loose surface material, including leaves, twigs, and mulch, should be no more than 3 inches deep.
  • Remove all Combustible Vegetation (single-specimen exemptions may apply).
  • Considering slope, maintain adequate horizontal and vertical spacing to prevent a “fire bridge” or “ladder.” See Plant and Tree Spacing section.
  • Remove piles of dead vegetation


Access Zone | roadways & driveways

  • Assure safe access and egress by maintaining vegetation within 10 feet of roadways and driveways similarly to the Immediate Zone. Provide for 13½ foot clearance above roadway.

We don’t own goats. San Rafael, the County of Marin, 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 clearing with weed eaters or mowers is more cost effective.

Exemptions to these regulations, including for erosion control, may be granted at the discretion of the fire chief or their designee. Please find more information at:

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