By Timithie NORMAN
With the lingering heat wave punishing Southern California residents with triple-digit temperatures through next week, the fire danger in the Angeles Crest Mountains remains “very high” according to the U.S. Forest Service. But the threat of fire in the smaller Verdugo Mountains may be even more critical.
The Verdugos, a small, detached portion of the San Gabriel Mountains, run for approximately eight miles just north of Glendale and Burbank and south of La Crescenta, Tujunga, and Sun Valley. Surrounded entirely by urban development – both commercial and residential – the mountains are an isolated piece of wildlife and also, more importantly, a critical factor in the area’s potential fire danger.
Unlike the Angeles Crest Mountains, which are largely uninhabited by people, the small Verdugo range is dense with recreational hikers and bikers as well as metropolitan build-up.
“This is where people have moved right up to and into the brush areas,” explained Glendale Fire Department Battalion Chief Greg Godfrey. “These areas can be hard to protect and one of the reasons we have ordinances that require a certain distance around a structure for brush clearance.”
Residents of the area are asked to maintain good brush clearance from any structure to reduce the fire risk. All locals should have an emergency plan in the case of fire, flood, or earthquake.
“If you need to evacuate, know what to do before someone says evacuate,” said Godfrey. “Be aware of suspicious activity in the area around the brush, and if you see a fire, call 911 immediately.”
Fire dangers were already high due to a dry spring, said Godfrey, and it doesn’t help that the recent record-breaking temperatures are increasing fire dangers throughout the southern United States. What happens, he said, is that the moisture level in plants decreases and the hill-side brush is pre-heated by the hot weather and winds. Together, those factors are a recipe for a red-flag alert.
The Verdugos have hosted their fair share of wildfires in the past, with major fires taking place in 1927, 1955, 1964, 1980, and most recently, 1990, 2002 and 2005. The 1990 “College Hills Fire,” started by an arsonist near Verdugo Road and Glendale Avenue, consumed 60 homes and caused $50 million in damage. The 2002 and 2005 fires together burned more than 1,700 acres. Though brush fires seem to happen fairly frequently, like the recent two-acre fire at the 2 and 134 freeways in July, major fires naturally occur every 30 to 40 years.