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Task Force Seeks to Bolster Fire Prevention Measures : Report: It recommends adoption of tougher building codes and increased training for those who battle blazes.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In an effort to prevent catastrophic wildfires, like the one that devastated Laguna Beach last year, Orange County fire officials are asking the Board of Supervisors to endorse more stringent building and fire codes, as well as increase training for firefighters.

“We felt we could learn from” last October’s fire, said Orange County Fire Chief Larry J. Holms, who headed a task force that studied the blaze. “We looked for information that we could apply for next time or to prevent another such incident.”

The Orange County Wildland / Urban Interface Task Force analyzed the causes of Orange County’s 1993 firestorm and looked for ways to improve fire prevention measures and firefighting techniques, Holms said. The firestorm destroyed or damaged 441 homes at a cost of $528 million.

The task force consisted of more than 70 people representing the fire departments, the county, cities, developers and others. The group’s report has been forwarded to the board for adoption Tuesday.

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“It’s a very comprehensive package,” said Michael M. Ruane, director of the county’s Environmental Management Agency. “We’re looking at the county being a model and creating a uniform fire strategy.

“It’s a real credit to Chief Holms and other fire department chiefs in the cities who decided not to just deal with the fire, but also to be proactive for the future,” Ruane added.

Holms said the task force is recommending that tougher building codes be adopted throughout the county to require that houses in fire hazard areas have enclosed roof eaves. Houses on stilts also should be enclosed to “prevent trapping of heat and burning embers” underneath them, he said.

Many of the task force’s recommendations are aimed at making “a house more defensible” in the event of a wildfire, Holms said.

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Recommendations in the report include supporting “vegetation management burn projects,” encouraging the insurance industry to give premium credits to homeowners in fire hazard areas who implement fire safety measures, and evaluating minimum training levels for county fire agencies to handle wildfires that encroach on urban areas.

Last October’s firestorms destroyed more than 1,200 structures, burned nearly 2,000 acres, and left four people dead in Southern California.


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