Prescribed burning: We need to do it more often

Texas is a state that recognizes the importance of fire and encourages prescribed burning.

The California Senate passed a bill Sept. 2 intended to encourage private landowners to perform controlled burns on their property. Senate Bill (SB) 332 would establish a “gross negligence” liability standard for those who qualify as a burn boss when conducting prescribed fire treatments for land management and wildfire prevention.

First ever California burn boss class meets in Eureka

The liability standard would also apply to property owners who contract with trained and certified burn bosses to conduct prescribed burns on their property.

“Often, managers who are aware of the benefits of using prescribed fire as a management tool avoid using it because of fear of liability for damages that may result from an escaped fire or smoke even though prescribed burns rarely escape their containment and almost never cause losses,” read a factsheet from the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Bill Dodd (D-3).

Under the current California law, burn bosses are held to a “simple negligence” standard of liability. Any person “who personally or through another, willfully, negligently or in violation of law” sets fire or allows an escaped fire to damage someone else’s property is liable for the damage. The laws specify property damages, but courts have often held property owners and burn bosses liable for other harms such as injury or death, Dodd said.

SB 332 takes the liability off property owners and burn bosses in the case of damage or injury to property or people unless the burn was conducted in a grossly negligent manner.

Committee hears testimony on wildfire management

“I am heartened by the unanimous, bipartisan support for SB 332,” said Lenya Quinn-Davidson, fire advisor for the University of California Cooperative Extension and director of the Northern California Prescribed Fire Council. 

“We know prescribed fire is essential for our future with fire in California, and leaders from all sides are ready for real change. That’s what this bill gives us. I’m hopeful the governor will recognize this momentous opportunity and sign the bill into law.” Anna Miller, WLJ managing editor

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