By Mary O’KEEFE
In California years ago there was a fire season that began in October, but with the long-term drought and changing weather conditions fire season is now pretty much year round. Living along the foothills, residents understand just how fast-moving a wildfire can be and firefighters are on constant watch to make sure everything that can be done to prevent a fire is being done.
The Station Fire was seven years ago, and before that blaze there were warnings about the “old growth forest” within Angeles National Forest that had not burned in decades. That same term is used to describe the area of the Verdugo Mountains today; however, Capt. Funke of Los Angeles County Fire Station 82 in La Cañada put “old growth” in perspective.
“Old growth is new growth that is very dry, it is really like short grass. There are very flammable fire loads right now [in ANF],” Funke said. “It has been almost a whole decade [since the Station Fire] for regrowth.”
He added this type of dry vegetation fuel can carry a fire for great distances and can run fast.
One of the best ways to safeguard against the spread of fire is abatement.
“Brush clearance is huge, it is the biggest thing we as residents can do to try to assure [ourselves] that there is [some degree] of survivability of our homes and of our neighbors’ [homes],” he said.
The LACoFD has already conducted its initial brush clearance inspection and now during July are in the process of re-inspecting those residences that were found to need abatement.
Abatement is a very important part of fire prevention for the city of Glendale as well. The Glendale Fire Dept. began its abatement inspections on May 1 and will complete all of the inspections by the end of July. If abatement or additional abatement is required, GFD will contact the resident.
“A notice is mailed to [residents] with different actions that are required for their property,” said Doug Nickles, fire prevention coordinator, GFD.
The City of Glendale has determined about 12,000 parcels lie within the high fire hazard area of the city. Of that, about 1,000 are vacant lots and about 5,000 of those parcels are inspected annually while 6,000 are monitored but have not had any notifications of abatement sent to them in the past, Nickles said.
People may think that abatement only pertains to homes that butt up against or near the mountains but, in fact, everyone is vulnerable when it comes to wildfires. Embers can travel from wildfires to homes far away from the main wildfire.
“We call that spotting,” Funke said.
Firefighters saw spotting in the Sage Fire in Santa Clarita, he added.
“Embers can fly for miles, then they end up going onto a property that has not been attended to very well, and that becomes another issue,” he said.
A small ember can find itself in a rain gutter that has not been cleared and is filled with dry leaves.
“That little ember will stay inside the leaves in that rain gutter and fester and smolder for some time but then you have a roof fire,” he said.
Nickles added that years ago Cal Fire (the California Dept. of Forestry and Fire Protection) conducted an extensive analysis of the state to determine high, medium and low fire hazard areas. They released the information to local cities that then used that information with their own data to determine their designated fire areas. Within that study, Nickles said, was an ember intrusion zone.
The city does not regularly inspect the existing homes in the ember intrusion area, but if a new home is to be built within that zone, they must comply with the building and fire codes.
Local fire departments are often called to assist other agencies especially during wildfires.
“[Fires] are increasing in the Southern California area. These fires we are seeing right now are [more] typical of what we would see in northern California,” Funke said. “It is because we are so dry, the humidity level is down so dramatically. And every day we are getting temperatures in the 80s. Everything already is a tinderbox.”
If, and when, a wildfire occurs in the area and residents are asked to evacuate it is important for people to be prepared. The LACoFD has information titled “Ready, Set, Go” that encourages people to be prepared in the event of a brush fire. If residents have a question about abatement for their own home they can contact the LACoFD station closest to their residence: Station 63 at 4526 Ramsdell Ave. in La Crescenta, (818) 248-2741; Station 19, 1729 W. Foothill Blvd., (818) 249-1562; Station 82, 352 Foothill Blvd., (818) 790-4686; Glendale Fire Dept. (818)548-4814.