On October 6, 2021, Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law Senate Bill 332 by Sen. Bill Dodd (D-Napa), relating to prescribed fires. The bill adds Section 3333.8 to the Civil Code. First, the new law specifies that the Legislature declares that, in order to meet fuel management goals, the state must rely on private entities to engage in prescribed burning for public benefit.
Second, the bill provides that no personal is liable for any fire suppression or other costs that are otherwise recoverable under the law resulting from a prescribed burn if the following specified conditions are met:
(1) The purpose of the burn is for wildland fire hazard reduction, ecological maintenance and restoration, cultural burning, silviculture, or agriculture.
(2) A person certified as a burn boss pursuant to Public Resources Code Section 4477 reviewed and approved a written prescription for the burn that includes adequate risk mitigation measures.
(3) The burn is conducted in compliance with the written prescription.
(4) The burn is authorized pursuant to relevant provisions of the Public Resources Code.
(5) The burner has a landowner’s written permission or the approval of the governing body of a Native American Tribe to burn.
(6) The burn is conducted in compliance with any air quality permit required pursuant to specified provisions of the Health and Safety Code.
Note that “cultural burns” conducted by a cultural fire practitioner are exempt from paragraphs (2) and (3).
Nonetheless, the new law specifies that it is not to be construed to grant immunity from fire suppression or other costs otherwise recoverable under the Health and Safety Code to any person whose conduct constitutes gross negligence. In addition, the bill makes clear that nothing affects the ability of a private or public entity plaintiff to bring a civil action against any defendant.
Finally, the new law defines the terms “cultural burn” to mean the intentional application of fire to land by Native American tribes, tribal organizations, or cultural fire practitioners to achieve cultural goals or objectives, including subsistence, ceremonial activities, biodiversity, or other benefits; and “cultural fire practitioner” to mean a person associated with a Native American tribe or tribal organization with experience in burning to meet cultural goals or objectives, including subsistence, ceremonial activities, biodiversity, or other benefits.
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