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Tent Permits – Why do I Need One?

By: Kathy A. Newby, Sr. Event Consultant Stuart Event Rentals

Many clients are surprised when they are told they need a permit and inspection for the tent (temporary membrane structure) they are renting.  As mandated by the state fire code, all tents over 400 sq. ft. with (1) side of wall are required to have a fire permit.  In addition to the fire permit, approval may also be required from the local planning agency.

Please note that regulations for tenting permits for the State of California as dictated in the California Fire Code are enforced by local or county fire departments.  This means each local Fire Marshal interprets the fire code differently and just because you are allowed do something in a particular way in one city doesn’t mean you will be allowed to do it in another.  DO NOT argue with the Fire Marshal, they can make things very difficult for you or even deny your request for a permit.

If you decide not to pull a fire permit and the Fire Marshal finds out, you and the tent rental company are subject to huge penalty fines and your event can even be “Red Tagged,” meaning Fire Marshal can close down your event.  Now you may ask, how would Fire Marshal find out – the most common is a disgruntle neighbor who calls the police because you are making too much noise or you didn’t let them know ahead of time that lots of cars were going to be parked on your block.  Another way would be if your tent or canopy can be seen from the street.

Fire Departments charge fees for permits.  In additional to the permit fee itself, most tent rental companies charge a fee to process the permit paperwork (floor plans, site plan, application), on behalf of the client.

Fire Code Requirements for Tents and Canopies

This information summarizes the fire and life safety regulations relating to temporary structures classified as tents and canopies. Definitions:

Tent -A temporary structure, enclosure or shelter constructed of fabric or pliable material supported in any manner except by air or the contents it protects.

Canopy – A temporary structure, enclosure or shelter constructed of fabric or pliable material supported by any manner except by air or the contents it protects without sidewalls or drops on 75% or more of the perimeter.

Fire Code Regulations

  • A Fire Department permit is required to erect any tent over 200 square feet in floor area or any canopy over 400 square feet in floor area. In addition to a Fire Department permit, approval may also be required from the local planning agency
  • A tent may not be erected on any site for more than 180 days in any 12-month period
  • All tent fabric and interior decorative fabric used in tents or canopies is required to be flame retardant in accordance with appropriate State Fire Marshal standards. Any saw dust, shavings, straw or other combustible material used on the floor of such tents must also be made flame resistant. A Certificate of Flame Resistance or other documentation affirming compliance with this requirement must be submitted with any application for a permit to erect a tent.

Location Requirements

  • Tents and canopies must be separated from each other, property lines, other structures and Vehicles, by a minimum clear width of 20 feet or by the required exit width, whichever is greater. For purposes of required distances, support ropes and guy wires are considered part of the tent.
  • Fire apparatus roadways shall be 20 feet wide with 13’-6” vertical clearance capable of supporting the imposed load of fire apparatus.

Exits from tents and canopies

  • Tents or canopies having an occupant load of 50 or more must be provided with exit signs and exit directional signs.  If the occupant load is more than 100, the exit signs must be internally illuminated or of an approved self-luminous type. Internally illuminated signs must be supplied with power from two separate circuits, one of which shall serve no other purpose. If the occupant load exceeds 300, the exit signs shall be provided with an approved emergency power system such as back-up batteries or an automatic emergency generator. Exit openings need to be 10’ wide and clearly marked.  The distance between exits cannot be more than 75’ apart.
  • Aisles with a minimum width of 44 inches shall be provided for access to all exits. All portions of the interior of the tent or canopy shall be within 30 feet of an aisle. A scale drawing showing the proposed arrangement of furniture and fixtures inside the tent or canopy shall be submitted to the Fire Department for approval as part of the permit process.

House Keeping and General Fire Safety Requirements

  • Flammable and combustible liquids and LP-gas shall not be stored in or within 50 feet of tents and canopies.
  • All weeds, combustible vegetation, trash and combustible storage shall be removed from areas adjacent to and within 30 feet of tents and canopies. Floor surfaces inside and within 30 feet of canopies shall be kept free and clear of combustible waste.
  • Gas, solid or liquid-fuel-burning equipment shall be vented to the exterior by means of an approved flue or vent. A 12-inch clearance shall be maintained between the flue or vent and all tent material. Solid-fuel-burning equipment shall be provided with an approved spark arrestor having openings not exceeding ¼ inch wire mesh
  • Fire extinguishers with a minimum rating of 2A-10BC shall be provided as follows: one extinguisher for tents and canopies up to 500 square feet in floor area; two extinguishers for 501 to 1,000 square feet; and one extinguisher for each additional 2,000 square feet of floor area or fraction thereof.
  • Smoking is prohibited in tents and canopies. Approved NO SMOKING signs shall be posted. The use of open flame devices such as candles is prohibited in tents and canopies.
  • The Fire Department strictly regulates cooking and heating equipment. Contact the Fire Prevention Division for your area for requirements.

If your specific event doesn’t meet the above requirements ask the Fire Marshal for a “variance” to make an exception to the regulations.  When submitting your application for the fire permit, go in feeling confident and know the rules.

The Fire Marshal will arrange the tent inspection after installation and set-up for the event are complete.  They want to see that the placement of the items inside the structure match the diagram you submitted.  The Fire Marshal will want to see that the emergency exit signs illuminate when the power is turned off and that all fire extinguishers are in working order and that the inspection tags attached are current.

Good luck and remember, the Fire Marshal is your friend, he or she is there to protect your client and their guests.