Wildfire Tips and Arson Laws
Fall has arrived in California and it has brought warm, dry, and windy weather with it. This can only lead to one thing, wildfires. Californians are pretty well acquainted with the dangers of wildfires. As such, most people are aware of how important it is for them to prevent the blazes from happening in the first place.
As utility companies such as Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric do everything they can to prevent causing yet another wildfire in California, it is important for everyone to follow suit. No one wants to be responsible for starting a major wildfire. Doing so could have a lot of hefty consequences.
Wildfire Prevention Tips
There are plenty of things homeowners can do around their home to help prevent a wildfire from starting on their property. Here are some tips on how to do just that:
- Clear leaves and dead vegetation from the yard. This reduces the amount of dry kindling in the area.
- Prune trees so that the lowest branches are 6 to 10 feet off the ground. This makes it harder for ground fires to spread to tree tops.
- Put metal screens no larger than 1/8 inch over openings under porches, eaves, and into vents. This can prevent combustible materials from gathering there and prevent embers from landing there.
- Keep flammable materials such as piles of firewood and propane tanks, at least 30 feet away from your home, garage, and sheds.
- Maintain lawns to keep them green and less flammable. Mow lawns in the morning before the weather gets too hot and windy. Dispose of lawn clippings and other yard trimmings quickly to prevent them from piling up in the yard.
- Try to make sure neighbors follow these tips as well to prevent fires from starting near your house. If their yard become especially prone to wildfires, contact local fire officials to alert them to the problem.
Another good rule of thumb is to just be aware of what actions can start wildfires. For instance:
- Burning trash in a person’s back yard.
- Leaving a campsite unattended without completely dousing the campfire.
- Mowing the lawn can cause fires if a rock is struck by the blades, creating a spark.
- Playing with fire, especially on windy days, can easily get out of hand.
- Setting off fireworks in a bad area.
- Throwing a cigarette on the ground can ignite nearby brush
Even if unintentional, a person can get into serious trouble, for starting a wildfire here in California.
Penalties for Starting a Fire
The state of California has two arson laws. One applies when a person purposefully starts a fire. The other applies when a person accidentally starts a fire.
California Penal Code (PC) 451 makes it a crime for a person to willfully and maliciously set fire to any structure, forest land, or property. This law is a felony offense, meaning a person guilty of this will face harsh consequences. The exact severity of the consequences depend on what type of property was burned and if anyone was injured by the blaze. Depending on those facts, a person can face a state prison sentence from 16 months to 9 years.
PC 452 makes it a crime for any person to recklessly set fire to any structure, forest land, or property. Unlike PC 451, this offense is typically a misdemeanor, but can be charged as a felony if forest land is burned or someone is injured. If a person is guilty of breaking this law by burning down personal property, they face:
- A max jail stay of 6 months.
- A fine of no more than $1,000.
Accidentally burning structures, forest land, inhabited property, or causing great bodily injury can get a person locked up for as short as 16 months in county jail, or up to 6 years in state prison. This all depends on if the offense is charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, and what exactly happened.
Be Careful with Fire
Wildfires are a very serious threat here in California. Everyone knows this. That is why it is important for everyone to do their part in preventing wildfires from happening. Luckily, it is pretty easy to not start a wildfire. All a person has to do is be careful.
For a more comprehensive list of what do to during a wildfire, and what to include in an emergency kit, check out ready.gov. This is the US government’s official website dedicated to helping people prepare for all kinds of natural disasters and emergencies. This site provides all sorts of useful information that every prepared family should know.
What do you think of being prepared for wildfires? Do you have any extra tips to add on to this list? If so, post them in the comments below and help other people be prepared. Also, what do you think of California having 2 different arson laws? Share your thoughts down below.