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William D. Green, PE
John E. Baker

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CALIFORNIA RURAL HOMESITE 

Safety

Don't forget to check into these considerations. It may save your life or your life savings.

Fire 

California building codes have been updated with mandatory requirements in the urban/wildland interface, so check with your building department or architect if you are planning new home. Fire resistant materials, tempered windows, boxed soffits, skirted decks, and even sprinkler systems are sometimes required.

Most rural homesites have no fire hydrants for hundreds or thousands of feet. This may be reflected in the cost of insuring your home. Protect your home from wildfire as discussed below. Keep fire extinguishers on hand. Consider water storage tanks. 2500 gallons is a good minimum with a fire riser for your fire department.

You can help avoid losing your home to a forest fire and comply with State Law by clearing within at least 30-100' of all buildings and maintain a fuel break beyond that. Fire travels fastest uphill on steeper slopes, so pay particular attention to the downhill side of your house. The local fire department or forestry department can assist you with a plan.

If possible, irrigate the areas around your house. Clear brush back from driveways and access roads to provide additional fire break opportunities. If possible, construct your access road and driveway wide enough to allow trucks to enter and vehicles to get out.

Provide truck turn-around areas and turnouts for vehicles to pass. Provide all-weather surfaces for year-around fire protection. If your property is on a long dead end road, plan aggressive steps to allow you to shelter in place if you are trapped. A fire behavior specialist should be consulted to help you design such an option. If possible, work with your neighbors to provide emergency connections between driveways and access roads for extra safety.


Police

Most rural areas are served by the county sheriff's department. Small towns sometimes have their own police department. You can contact the local law enforcement agency for details if this is important to you. Fortunately, many rural areas are not high crime areas. The most common crime facing a rural home is the possibility of burglary while you're away. Hide your valuables as best you can, use your safe deposit box, buy insurance, participate in neighborhood watch groups, and hope for the best. Oh, a properly managed watchdog can't hurt. 

Ambulance and Medical

Most rural areas utilize 911 by land line or cellular phone to call emergency medical personnel. The response time in rural areas is sometimes slightly slower than urban due to distance, but most communities have good service. Often both ambulance and fire department emergency medical technicians respond. Most rural communities have regional hospitals with good services and the ability to transport patients by air or ambulance to specialized facilities. Your Realtor® can obtain information for you regarding these services.

Slides, Slips, and Subsidence 

Some areas are prone to earth or mudslides during wet, winter weather. This possibility is related to the type of soil and steepness. Construction of driveways, pads, and foundations can increase slide potential. Look at other similar properties for signs of problems. On steep hills prone to slipping, trees often lean down the hill showing signs of gradual movement. If your construction will be on steep slopes, especially those over 30%, you should consult a geotechnical engineer. The local
building department can also assist you in evaluating this consideration. 

Many rural areas were mined both above ground and below. Look for signs of mining like shafts, large rock piles, and exposed hydraulically washed banks. Carefully read your disclosure documents for any information on past mining. A professional geotechnical engineer can assist you with these issues, by providing mining records research and a walk through evaluation.

Floods

Areas adjacent to rivers, streams, and ravines are subject to flooding during periods of heavy storms. Many counties and cities maintain flood mapping and participate in a national flood insurance program. You can review or buy the mapping from the Planning or Public Works Departments. The mapping usually shows the "100 year flood limits." DON'T RELY COMPLETELY on these maps. For one thing, the 100 year flood is not the largest flood event that can occur. Also, these maps are usually prepared in a broad brushed fashion from aerial mapping. Sometimes the mapping is inaccurate. The best advice is to use common sense and set buildings back even further from flood areas if possible. A civil engineer can help you evaluate your building site for flood potential. 

Driveways

Other than excessive steepness, the driveway safety issue is sight distance. Can you see each way when you exit your driveway to be safe? Sometimes driveway construction results in cut slopes that block your view. Sometimes vegetation on adjoining property is a problem. Also consider the left turn into the driveway, will you be sitting on a blind curve waiting to get rear ended? Constructing new driveways onto City or County streets usually requires that you first obtain an encroachment permit from the local public works department. Often this department will check sight distance. A civil engineer can also help you evaluate these issues. Don't forget that your driveway is an important fire safety improvement. It should allow access and evacuation during a fire. It should extend to your improvements so that fire fighters can get there. It should have the brush and vegetation cleared back for 10' on each side, to form a fire break.

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