Opinion: Cal Fire Overstepped Burn Restriction Authority
The CDF (Cal Fire) unit chief overstepped authority.
The California Public Resource Code grants fire officials the authority to suspend or restrict permitted burning when certain articulable conditions exist.
The California Public Resources Code 4423.1 states in part:
“4423.1. Burning under permit by any person on public or private lands, except within incorporated cities, may be suspended, restricted, or otherwise prohibited by proclamation. Any of the following public officers may issue a proclamation, which shall be applicable within their respective jurisdictions:
(a) The director or his or her designee.
(b) Any county fire warden with the approval of the director.
(c) The federal officers directing activities within California of the United States Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, and the United States Forest Service.
The proclamation may be issued when, in the judgment of the issuing public official, the menace of destruction by fire to life, improved property, or natural resources is, or is forecast to become, extreme due to critical fire weather, fire suppression forces being heavily committed to control fires already burning, acute dryness of the vegetation, or other factors that may cause the rapid spread of fire. A proclamation is effective on issuance or at a time specified therein and shall remain in effect until a proclamation removing the suspension, restriction, or prohibition is issued. The proclamation may be effective for a single day or longer. The proclamation shall declare the conditions that necessitate its issuance, designate the geographic area to which it applies, require that all or specified burning under permit be suspended, restricted, or prohibited until the conditions necessitating the proclamation abate, and identify the public official issuing the proclamation. The proclamation may be in the form of a verbal or audio recorded telephone message, a press release, or a posted order.”
Granted no one wants to see the destruction of property caused by an escaped control burn, but let’s be reasonable. Do you think the CHP can arbitrarily suspend driving on New Year’s Eve because they know there will be drunk drivers on the road? CDF has already downstaffed some of its engines for the winter. As they begin prescribed burning themselves, how can the unit chief justify the blanket suspension of burning when none of the conditions required for suspension exist? The burn suspension should have been lifted long ago and the use of the already existing burn laws followed. If not lifting the suspension, he should at least consider applying certain restrictions such as permitting burning during certain hours when temperatures are lower.
CDF violates guidelines of the burn suspension law annually; no-one holds it accountable.