Cutting Red Tape : State Lights Fire Under Brush Burn

Times Staff Writer

A top-level state administrator Wednesday told two state agencies to stop squabbling and allow firefighters to burn 200 acres to create a firebreak in Topanga Canyon.

Parks and Recreation Department and Forestry Department officials were ordered to expedite paper work to authorize the controlled burn in Topanga State Park.

Wednesday's action by state Resources Agency Secretary Gordon K. Van Vleck should clear the way for the burn-off to start in about two weeks, said Harold F. Waraas, assistant Resources Agency secretary.

Los Angeles County firefighters, in conjunction with forestry officials, have planned to create the firebreak at the southern edge of the mountainous state park, to protect houses downwind from an accidental fire.

But plans for the burn were canceled two weeks ago when a dispute arose over the required paper work.

Forestry officials said parks administrators did not have a proper environmental impact report for the work. Parks officials refused to sign a waiver releasing forestry administrators from responsibility in case the fire flared out of control.

Van Vleck's intervention was requested Tuesday by Los Angeles County supervisors, who complained that the two deparments were putting "their petty disagreements ahead of the welfare of residents." The two state agencies are part of the Resources Agency.

Waraas said the waiver requirement will be dropped and the environmental impact report issue resolved by parks officials filing a "negative declaration" covering the firebreak work.

"We asked them to do it and to expedite it through the state clearing house," he said. The clearing house is a state office set up to cut through red tape.

County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who pressed for Tuesday's board motion, and Topanga Canyon community leaders applauded what Antonovich termed Van Vleck's "quick and responsible response."

"This will give residents a new and important margin of safety against the chance of a disastrous brush fire," Antonovich said.

Marty Corbett, vice president of the Topanga Town Council, said "no excuse was good enough" for firefighters not to proceed with the firebreak work.

Watch Group Relieved

Allen Emerson, leader of the 100-member Topanga Arson Watch Team, said his group was prepared to send petitions to the governor had Van Vleck not stepped in. Emerson said members of his squad assisted the county Fire Department Wednesday in a six-day, 450-acre controlled burn north of Topanga State Park near Woodland Hills.

Capt. Scott Franklin, head of the county Fire Department's controlled-burn program, said Wednesday's burning will resume today if humidity remains high and wind and temperatures stay low.

Franklin said he was pleased that the impasse regarding the state park has apparently been resolved.

"I just hope it's not more of the state's mumbo-jumbo," he said.

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