Frequently Asked Questions

Fuel break

Fire Safe Council

The mission of the Tuolumne Fire Safe Council is to protect north Tuolumne County citizens, property, and natural resources from the effects of catastrophic wildland fires.

The intent of the Council is to:

  • Educate the public to increase awareness to further fire safety in Tuolumne County.
  • Develop creative ways to make compliance with fire safe regulations easier and more effective for property owners.
  • Reduce the wildfire risk and loss of life and property through fire prevention, fire safety, fuel reduction, and community preparedness.
  • Build community support for gaining additional funding, programs, and equipment in order to meet suppression and prevention needs in Tuolumne County.

Fire Safe Councils are community organizations with the goal of preventing devastating wildfires and reducing wildfire losses. Fire Safe Councils meet this goal through education programs and projects such as shaded fuel breaks to protect community residents against an oncoming wildfire and provide firefighters a place to stage to fight the fire.

Fire Safe Councils started in the early 1990s and today there are approximately 150 Councils in California. Councils may serve an entire county or a smaller area such as a Home Owner’s Association in a subdivision or a region in a county. Tuolumne has two Fire Safe Councils—the Tuolumne Fire Safe Council and the Yosemite Foothills Fire Safe Council.

Fire Safe Councils are independent entities, usually incorporated as a 501(c)(3) organization, or may operate under a memorandum of understanding with a county, city, fire protection district, or other appropriate entity. Councils include representation from groups such as the US Forest Service, CAL FIRE, local fire departments, local government, and interested persons. Fire Safe Councils rely heavily on volunteers for their work.

Enacted in 2005, Public Resources Code (PRC) Section 4291 sets the requirement for defensible space around structures in mountainous, grass or brush covered lands, or land that is covered with flammable material. PRC 4291 requires defensible space of 100 feet from each side and the front and rear of a structure, but not beyond the property line. It was enacted to improve fire safety and help prevent catastrophic wildfires. Defensible space does not mean property has to be cleared to bare soil.

Two zones make up the required 100 feet of defensible space. Zone 1 is within 30 feet of the structure. Zone 2 is within 30 and 100 feet.

In Zone 1, remove all dead plants, grass, and weeds; remove dead or dry leaves and pine needles from your yard, roof, and rain gutters; and keep tree branches trimmed 10 feet away from the chimney and other trees.

In Zone 2, cut or mow grass down to a maximum height of 4 inches; create horizontal spacing between shrubs and trees; and create vertical spacing between grass, shrubs, and trees.

More information on defensible space is available in the Resources section.

A fire break is an opening or strip of land where vegetation is absent and bare soil is usually present. The purpose of a fire break is to deny a fire combustible material. Fire breaks can be naturally occurring, such as rivers, or man made. The goal of a fire break is to prevent flames from coming in direct contact with structures.

A fuel break is a strip of land where hazardous vegetation has been removed and less hazardous vegetation is retained.

A shaded fuel break is a type of fuel break in forested areas where the trees have been thinned, tree canopies have been raised through removal of lower branches, and the understory vegetation has been managed to reduce the fire threat and limit the fire’s ability to spread rapidly. Shaded fuel breaks are more aesthetically pleasing than a fire break or fuel break, and tree health and vigor are improved. Shaded fuel breaks maintain cooler and moister understory conditions and understory vegetation stays greener longer into the growing season which helps reduce fire spread. Shaded fuel breaks also provide a place for firefighters to stage to stop an oncoming wildfire. The Tuolumne Fire Safe Council constructs shaded fuel breaks.

Information on shaded fuel breaks constructed by the Tuolumne Fire Safe Council is available in the Projects section.

Among the areas with shaded fuel breaks or other fuel reduction projects are the Big Hill/Cedar Ridge area, Phoenix Lake area, Twain Harte/Highway 108 area, Lyons Bald Mountain/Phoenix Lake area, Tuolumne area, and Columbia area.

The Yosemite Foothills Fire Safe Council has constructed shaded fuel breaks in the Groveland/Big Oak Flat area.

More information is available in the Projects section.

The wildland-urban interface (WUI) is an area, such as parts of Tuolumne County, where homes are built near or on lands prone to wildland fire. These areas are becoming causalities of hard to control wildfires. Approximately one-third of homes in the United States are built in the WUI.

The WUI is not a place but a set of conditions. According to the National Fire Protection Association, conditions include the amount, type, and distribution of vegetation; the flammability of the structures in the area and their proximity to fire prone vegetation and to combustible structures; weather patterns and general climate conditions; topography; hydrology; average lot size; and road construction.

Homes in the WUI should follow defensible space practices. Information on keeping your home safe is available in the Resources section.

Arastraville, Buck Meadows, Bumblebee, Chinese Camp, Cold Springs, Columbia, Confidence, Cow Creek, Dardanelle, East Sonora, Groveland-Big Oak Flat, Harden Flat, Jamestown, Jupiter, Kennedy Meadow, Lake Don Pedro, Long Barn, Mather, Mi-Wuk Village, Moccasin, Mono Vista, Phoenix Lake-Cedar Ridge, Sierra Village, Smith Station, Sonora, Soulsbyville, Standard, Stent, Tuolumne City, Tuolumne Rancheria, Tuttletown, and Twain Harte.

A Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) is a written plan describing wildfire hazards and mitigation measures for a community. The CWPP develops collaborative strategies to reduce risk from wildfires and restore healthier, more resilient conditions in the surrounding forests. The process of developing a CWPP can help a community clarify and refine its priorities for protection of life, property, and critical infrastructure in the wildland-urban interface.

The Tuolumne Fire Safe Council’s CWPP is currently being updated and will be available in the Resources section when the CWPP is completed.

The Tuolumne Fire Safe Council is a 501(c)(3) organization and able to receive donations. EIN is 74-3072909. You may donate online or make checks payable to Tuolumne Fire Safe Council and mail to Tuolumne Fire Safe Council, P.O. Box 692, Tuolumne, CA 95379. Thank you for your support.

The Tuolumne Fire Safe Council is a grassroots, nonprofit organization that works to reduce wildfire hazards and the devastating effects of wildfire in the north Tuolumne County community.

The mission of the Tuolumne Fire Safe Council is to save lives and protect property through wildfire preparedness, prevention, and education. Among Council activities is designing and constructing shaded fuel breaks to keep wildfires from becoming destructive.

Fire Preparedness

Defensible space is the area between a house and an oncoming wildfire where the vegetation has been managed to reduce the wildfire threat and to allow firefighters to safely defend the house. Defensible space improves your home’s chances of surviving a wildfire. This space is needed to slow or stop the spread of a wildfire and it protects your home from catching fire—either directly from flames or from radiant heat. Defensible space is also important for the protection of the firefighters protecting your home.

More information on defensible space is available in our Resources section.

Burn permits are available at any staffed CAL FIRE Station or Forest Service Ranger Station during normal business hours when burn permits are required, not during burn suspensions or open burning periods.

Burn day status is determined by the local Air Pollution Control District. In Tuolumne County the District can be reached by calling 209- 533-5598 prior to burning.

The CAL FIRE Tuolumne-Calaveras Unit notifies the public, local media, the Air Pollution Control District, and public officials when burn restrictions are implemented and lifted. CAL FIRE will also post this information on its social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Anyone can sign up for the CAL FIRE email notification system.

Burning can only be done on permissive burn days with a burn permit. State law prohibits the use of burn barrels.

The maximum debris pile size for burning is four feet in diameter. Clear all flammable material and vegetation within 10 feet of the outer edge of the pile. Keep a water supply close to the burning site. An adult should be in attendance until the fire is out. No burning should be undertaken unless weather conditions, especially wind, are such that burning can be considered safe.

No household trash or garbage can be burned outdoors at residences. Dry, natural vegetation grown on the property can be burned outdoors in open piles.

Information on safe debris burning is available in the Resources section.

The Plainview Slash Site operates under a contract with the Tuolumne Fire Safe Council on land leased by the Council from the Bureau of Land Management.   Call 209-743-3317 for information.   Plainview is located off Highway 108 across from the west entrance to Twain Harte. Operating hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Monday.

Accepted materials are leaves, pine needles, brush, trees, and beetle-killed logs. Fee is $8 per cubic yard. Logs 8 feet and longer are accepted at no charge.

The site is operated by David Wise and Son.

Each year CAL FIRE responds to 1,600 fires started by using equipment the wrong way. In Tuolumne County we need to use equipment responsibly. Lawnmowers, weed eaters, chain saws, grinders, welders, tractors, and trimmers can spark a wildland fire.

Here are some tips from CAL FIRE for using equipment safely.

  • Do all yard maintenance that requires a gas or electrical motor before 10 a.m. Never do this yard maintenance in the heat of the day or when the wind is blowing.
  • Never use lawn mowers on dry vegetation.
  • Use a weed trimmer to cut down dry weeds and grass.
  • Remove all rocks in the area before you begin using equipment. A rock can start a fire when struck by a metal blade.
  • In wildland areas, spark arresters are required on all portable gas powered equipment, including tractors, harvesters, chain saws, weed eaters, mowers, motorcycles, and All Terrain Vehicles.
  • Keep the exhaust system, spark arresters, and mowers in proper working order and free of carbon buildup.
  • Keep the engine free of oil and dust, and keep the mower free of flammable materials.
  • A permit may be required for grinding and welding operations, and spark shields may be required on equipment. Have 10 feet of clearance, a 46” round point shovel, and a backpump water-type fire extinguisher ready to use.
  • Hot exhaust pipes and mufflers can start fires you won’t see until it’s too late. Don’t pull off into dry grass and brush.
  • Have a cell phone handy and call 911 immediately in case of a fire.

More information on fire safe equipment use is available in the Resources section.

Keep a 3-day supply of drinking water and food that does not require refrigeration and does not require cooking. Keep a portable radio, flashlight, emergency cooking equipment, portable lanterns, and batteries. Have first aid supplies to treat any injuries until help arrives.

Make sure family members are able to protect themselves with stop, drop, and roll. Practice emergency exit drills in the house regularly. Designate an emergency meeting place outside your home in case of fire or other emergency forcing you to quickly leave your home. Have a plan to allow members to contact each other in a disaster.

Securely attach water heaters and furniture such as cabinets and book shelves to the wall for safety. Outdoor cooking appliances, such as barbecues, should never be used indoors as heaters.

More information is available in the Resources section.

The first step may be a casual conversation with your neighbor about your concerns and maybe offering to help with some work to achieve defensible space. Try referring your neighbor to the Ready for Wildfire website or to the Resource section of the Tuolumne Fire Safe Council website.

If these methods are not feasible or are no successful, report your concern to CAL FIRE by calling 209-754-3831 and ask to speak to the defensible space team of the Fire Prevention Bureau staff.

In an emergency dial 911.  In a non-emergency, the Tuolumne Calaveras Unit Headquarters in San Andreas  can be reached at 209-754-3831.


Residents will be advised of potential hazards and the possibility of evacuation. There are two types of evacuation notices.

Evacuation Warning: An evacuation warning is issued when an evacuation order is imminent. It includes the specific geographical areas that may be evacuated and procedures to follow.

Evacuation Order: An evacuation order is issued when there is an immediate threat to life and/or property. The evacuation order contains specific geographic areas to be evacuated and procedures to follow.

When the evacuation order is lifted, you will be notified by the local radio station and by personnel at emergency shelters.

More information on evacuation is available in the Resources section.

The fire department will decide the areas to be evacuated and notify the occupants. The areas to be evacuated will depend upon where the fire is, the wind, and fire behavior.

Law enforcement agencies are responsible for assisting in evacuation. Sheriff deputies and other law enforcement officers will ask residents to evacuate and will be responsible for security in areas that are evacuated.

The Red Cross will decide where people will be relocated for shelter. The Red Cross will have a representative at the command post.

The California Highway Patrol and the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Department will control traffic and maintain access for emergency equipment. The CHP and Sheriff’s Department will have representatives at the command post.

Shelter in Place: Sheltering in place is for a low intensity fire where structures have a good clearance and are made of fire resistant materials, and the fire department feels it is safe to stay in your home.

Safety Zones: Safety zones are temporary holding areas for small groups of people that provide a safe place until shelters can be established.

Shelters: The Red Cross establishes shelters for the immediate and short-term housing and care of evacuated residents.

Alternative Locations: Residents who do not wish to use a Red Cross shelter should consider determining in advance alternative housing locations. If you choose not to go to a Red Cross shelter, you should contact the Red Cross to provide information about your location in the event that family and friends are trying to find you.

In Your Home: Call 911. Stay inside your house away from outside walls. Keep all doors closed but keep them unlocked. Fill sinks and tubs with cold water. Keep the entire family together and remain calm. Remember, if it gets hot in the house, it is four to five times hotter and more dangerous outside.

After the fire passes, check the exterior and roof immediately and extinguish all sparks and embers. If you must climb to the roof, use caution. Check inside the attic for hidden burning embers. Check your yard for burning woodpiles, trees, fence posts, and other burning materials.

In Your Car: Call 911.  If you become trapped by fire while evacuating in your car, park in an area clear of vegetation, close all windows and vents, cover yourself with a jacket or blanket, and lie on the floor.

On Foot:  Call 911. Stay calm. If you are trapped in a fire while evacuating on foot, select an area clear of vegetation or lie face down in a ditch.

Remember, in a wildfire it’s okay to evacuate before ordered to do so.

Have a Go Bag with clothing, toiletries, valuables, medications, eye glasses, and other basic necessities ready before you need it. Have important legal documents and insurance policies in a locked, fire proof box.

Outside the house, remove anything that is combustible. Bring these items into the house or the garage. This includes items such as patio furniture, door mats, umbrellas, and trash cans. Move barbecue propane tanks and gas cans 30 feet away from structures. Turn off the propane tank and remove any vegetation around the tank.

Connect garden hoses to water valves for easy use by firefighters. Don’t leave sprinklers on since that can affect water pressure for hydrants. Leave your outside lights on so firefighters can see your home through smoke and in darkness.

Place a ladder so firefighters have quick access to your home’s roof. Blow debris away from the foundation. Attic and ground vents should be covered with wire screen as an ember barrier.

Inside the house, shut all windows and inside doors and unlock the garage door for entry by firefighters. Remove flammable window shades and curtains and close metal shutters.

Shut off the gas at the meter and shut off the air conditioning.

It’s up to you whether to lock your front door. Firefighters request front doors be left open but so do thieves and looters. Firefighters can break doors or windows to gain entry if needed. Looters will probably not go to that much trouble.

Cover up by wearing long pants, long sleeved shirt, and a bandana to cover your face.

More information on evacuation is available in the Resources section.

If it’s not safe for you to be in your home, it’s not safe for your pet either. Before the fire season, arrange with a neighbor to remove your pets in case you’re not home during an evacuation.

As a wildfire approaches or you are on stand-by evacuation notice, bring your pet(s) inside so you won’t have to search for them if you need to leave quickly. Know which hotels along your evacuation route will accept pets. Make sure your pet’s vaccinations are current. Many pet shelters require current proof of vaccinations,

Make sure that all cats and dogs are wearing collars with securely fastened, up-to-date identification. Consider having your pets microchipped. Have a study leash, harness and/or carrier for safely transporting your pet so it can’t escape.

Have pet food, drinking water, bowls, cat litter, litter pan, and a manual can opener to open pet food. Have medications and copies of medical records stored in a water proof container. Have current photos of your pet in case he or she gets lost.

Have information on feeding schedules, medical conditions, behavior problems, and the name and number of your veterinarian in case you have to board your pet. Bring pet bed and toys if they can be easily transported.

More information on pet evacuation is available in the Resources section.