Defensible Space

Defensible Space is the buffer an owner creates between their structure(s) on their property and the ground cover, shrubs, trees or any wildland area that surrounds it.  This created buffer helps to protect and increase the chance of the building’s survival from a wildfire.

The State of California requires owners of “real property” to maintain defensible space “at all times”.  Thus, whether you are a residential/commercial owner or an association, your properties are required to have defensible space. 

Every year, the Northstar Fire Department performs inspections between the months of May-October to enforce defensible space compliance. When the Northstar Fire Department performs inspections, we seek to enforce State, County and Local statutes.  (To review the various statutes see “Codes and Ordinances”.) From those statutes or ordinances, there are specific requirements required to be met by the property to meet defensible space compliance.  For Northstar Community Services District Defensible Space Requirements:

Defensible Space Inspection Items

Please schedule an inspection of your property prior to the start of any defensible space work.  The inspector will go over all items to be completed and will mark trees and vegetation required to be removed. To request for a defensible space inspection, please email Fire Prevention Officer Brandon Olk at

How Thinning the Forest Helps Combat Forest Fires:

“Home-hardening” is another means to protecting your structure from a wildfire. Besides providing a defensible space buffer, owners should choose appropriate building materials and design features that will increase the resistance to ignition from wind-blown embers. Here is a short list of things you can do to your home:

       1. THE ROOF has the greatest exposure to fire embers.
           ❑ Inspect and repair or replace your roof with tile, metal, asphalt, or shingles (materials with a

               Class-A fire rating).
           ❑ Plug gaps between your roof covering and sheathing to prevent ember entry.
           ❑ Install a metal drip edge (i.e., metal angle flashing) at the roof edge.

      2. VENTS can allow embers to enter a crawl space, the attic, soffit, or foundation.
           ❑ Upgrade vents with 1/8-inch metal mesh, or install vents approved to resist embers and flames

               (see resources).

      3. EAVES AND SOFFITS with open-eave construction should be inspected.
           ❑ Wherever possible enclose open eaves.
           ❑ Caulk and plug gaps around exposed rafters and blocking.

      4. WINDOWS can break from the heat, even before a home ignites, allowing burning embers or flames

          into the home.
           ❑ Install or upgrade to multi-pane tempered glass.
           ❑ Ensure there is no vegetation or other combustible materials within 5 feet of windows and glass


      5. SIDING is vulnerable if exposed to flames or radiant heat for periods of time.
           ❑ Inspect all siding. Plug or caulk gaps and joints.
           ❑ Maintain 6 inches of vertical noncombustible material between the ground and the start of the siding.
           ❑ Replace shingle or shake siding with ignition-resistant materials.
           ❑ If a neighboring home or outbuilding is closer than 30 feet, be sure to use noncombustible or

               ignition-resistant materials.
           ❑ Use a noncombustible louvered or self-closing dryer vent cover.
      6. DECKS are vulnerable to fires from embers igniting vegetation or materials near or below them.
           ❑ Ensure that all combustible items are removed from underneath, on, or next to your deck.
           ❑ Put a noncombustible layer between wood decks and siding.

      7. CHIMNEY
           ❑ Cover your chimney and stovepipe outlets with a noncombustible mesh screen with 3/8” to 1/2”


      8. GARAGES are especially vulnerable to embers and ash. Embers can enter a garage as easily as dust,

          potentially igniting a house from the inside.
           ❑ Install weather stripping, or gaskets, around and under the garage door to limit ember entry.
           ❑ Store all combustible and flammable liquids away from ignition sources.
           ❑ Know how to operate your garage door when there is no power.

For more home-hardening suggestions and concepts, please click on the following links:

Tahoe Living with Fire

Home Hardening


To schedule a day/time to meet with an inspector, please follow click here Where you see an opening in their schedule, you may sign-up for a day and time. You will receive an emailed confirmation notifying that you have secured a day/time.

A signed Right of Entry (ROE) is needed for the Northstar Fire Department to make entry onto an owner’s property to perform a defensible space inspection.  To review and/or print a copy of Northstar Fire Department’s Right of Entry (ROE), click here:


Northstar Community Services District’s ordinance 35-19 requires the sellers of real estate to have a defensible space inspection performed prior to the close of escrow. Likewise, buyers of real estate must sign a defensible space disclosure form acknowledging that they have reviewed the inspection form. For information and forms regarding Defensible Space Requirements for Real Estate Transactions, click here:

Real Estate Defensible Space Buyer Disclosure Form REV 4-23-22

Property owners can find a list of Approved Defensible Space Contractors here:


Yard Debris/Defensible Space Material Disposal

Firewood Storage 

Due to state, county, and local fire statutes, firewood, if stored on property has to be stored within strict guidelines. With the continued threat of wildfire we face in the Tahoe Truckee Basin, it is very important that homeowners follow these strict guidelines

You have two options for storing firewood on your property. Failure to comply with one of these two options is in violation of the Health and Safety Codes (13145, 13871, 17995 and 853.6) and may result in a citation and fine to not exceed $1000.00:

  1. Firewood needs to be stored in an enclosed structure protected from any and all flying embers, or fully covered with a fire retardant tarp (must have CA State Fire Marshal’s stamp of approval or meet NFPA code 701).
  2. Firewood piles must be stored 30 feet away from ANY structure, and 10 feet away from any brush and trees in order to not convey fire to the surrounding vegetation or structure. Also, you must maintain a minimum 10 feet of ground clearance down to bare mineral soil free of all downed woody material (pine needles, pine cones, leaves, grass, fallen tree limbs, etc…) around firewood piles. You cannot use trees as “bookends” for the firewood piles.

Determining Plant and Tree Spacing

Have you ever wondered how the fire department determines the number of bushes or trees that must be removed from your property?

The spacing between shrubs and trees is crucial to reducing the spread of wildfires. The spacing needed is determined by the type and size of brush and trees, as well as the slope of the land. For example, a property on a steep slope with larger vegetation requires greater spacing between trees and shrubs than a level property that has small, sparse vegetation.

Tahoe Landscaping Plant Guide

Vertical Spacing

Remove all tree branches at least 6-15feet from the ground.

Allow extra vertical space between shrubs and trees. Lack of vertical space can allow a fire to move from the ground to the brush to the treetops like a ladder.

To determine the proper vertical spacing between shrubs and the lowest branches of trees, use the formula below.

Example: A five foot shrub is growing near a tree. 3×5 = 15 feet of clearance needed between the top of the shrub and the lowest tree branch.

Horizontal Spacing

Horizontal spacing depends on the slope of the land and the height of the shrubs or trees. Check the chart below to determine spacing distance.