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Fire Safety Information

Dowd's Fire, 1984Defensible Space Around Your Home

Defensible space. It's a term we hear time and time again, especially during fire season. Yet many people still are confused as to what defensible space is.

Defensible space is an area around your home that is clear of excessive flammable vegetation. This area helps stop a fire from traveling and allows firefighters to take a stand. Typically, defensible space is a minimum of 30 feet on a relatively flat slope and to over 100 feet on steeper slopes.

During a fire, firefighters must make split-second decisions as to which homes they can defend. They look at accessibility for fire equipment, clearance of vegetation, and non-combustible roofs and siding. These homes stand a much better chance of being defended. A shake-roofed house surrounded by dense brush and overhanging trees at the end of a long driveway probably wouldn't be defensible.

There are many steps you can take to make your home more resistant to fire. The key is to break it down into manageable tasks over a set time frame. Also make the most of resources available through the City such as our chipper days, workshops and other special programs. Call our Vegetation Management Hotline at (415) 721-4367 for up-to-date information on programs and services in your area.

Landscaping Tips

  • Clear brush, weeds and dry grass from 30 to 100 feet around your home. The MVFD can help you determine the exact distance based on slope, wind, neighborhood density, house construction, etc. Invest the time now, and reduce your chances of having your home destroyed by wildfire.
  • Create fuel breaks by spacing out trees, bushes and other plants. Planting these too close together allows a fire to travel easily.
  • Eliminate highly flammable plants from your yard. Avoid plants that are high in oil or resin, have a low moisture content in their leaves and branches, or accumulate a significant amount of dead fuel. Your local nursery can help you select fire-resistant plants that will enhance your landscape.
  • Leave garden hoses connected to all outside faucets so that they are available to fight a fire.
  • Trim and remove dead branches from your trees.
  • Prune tree branches that overhang roofs. Remove the understory by eliminating lower tree limbs to a height of 10 feet. This breaks the "fuel ladder effect," helping stop a fire from traveling up a tree to your house.
  • Remove any trees that are within 10 feet of your home.
  • Keep grasses and ground covers trimmed low under trees so that ground fire will not have a ladder to climb up to your tree's canopy.
  • Keep landscape watered. Dry plants and trees easily ignite.
  • Stack firewood at least 30 feet away from any structure.
  • Avoid planting trees near electrical lines.
  • Clean debris from your roof and gutters several times each season.

Home Maintenance and Construction Tips

  • Install easy-to-read, contrasting house numbers that are clearly visible from the street, day or night.
  • Install spark arresters on the chimneys. 
  • Incorporate fire resistive building practices and materials if you are remodeling or building a new home:
  • Use Class "A" fire-rated roofing materials. These are required by the City of Mill Valley on all new buildings and all roof additions to existing buildings.
  • Use stucco instead of wood or wood shake siding.
  • Use tile, concrete, or rammed earth instead of wooden decks.
  • Install screens on all porches which have access under the house to prevent embers from landing on them.
  • Eliminate all eaves or cover them with noncombustible material such as stucco.
  • Use a minimum of double-paned glass windows on walls where a fire would likely approach.
  • Make sure your driveway is wide enough to give fire trucks access to your home. AT LEAST 11 FEET OF CLEARANCE IS REQUIRED.
  • Install smoke detectors on every level of your home. Test them monthly; change batteries semi-annually.
  • Install sprinklers in every room of your home.

Emergency Preparedness Information
Click here for Emergency Preparedness Information.

The Marin on Fire DVD is Now Available

The Marin on Fire DVD is a very concise program designed to teach you to understand the basics of urban fires so that you will know exactly what steps to take around you home to make it fire safe.  It includes video examples of the catastrophic Oakland Hills fire storm of 1991 which destroyed over 2,800 homes.  Because of the narrow roads, dense vegetation and abundance of highly flammable fuels, Mill Valley is currently more vulnerable than Oakland was before their fire.  The basic part of the DVD takes about 24 minutes.  There are also extra features included in the DVD.  For more information on fire safety, visit  The Marin on Fire DVD can be purchased at Mill Valley City Hall or by visiting the FIREsafe  Marin website.  The cost is $5.00.  The DVD can also be checked out at the Mill Valley Library. 

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Last updated: 6/23/2011 9:40:02 AM