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FIRE WATCH : Safety First

Last month, a smoldering cigarette tossed from a passing car touched off a one-acre fire near the ignition point of last October’s devastating Laguna Beach fire. Last weekend, a rifle bullet fired at a metal target ignited a brush fire that blackened 180 acres in the Cleveland National Forest. And the worst of the Southern California fire season is not yet upon us.

One top official of the Los Angeles County Fire Department warned last week that dry weather and brush have created a potential for disastrous fires. The traditional fire season will not begin until next month (it continues through November) but already there have been flare-ups that are worrisome, particularly at a time when memories of last year’s fires in Altadena, Malibu and Laguna Beach are so fresh.

After the Cleveland National Forest blaze, a firearms instructor told investigators that one shot from a rifle at a metal target set off sparks that ignited the fire, which spread from private property to the federal forest. The no doubt unintentional disregard of the dangerously dry conditions resulted in the need to call in hundreds of firefighters and three water-dropping helicopters.

L.A. County officials on Tuesday wisely authorized a 30-day test of the water-dropping “Super Scooper” airplane. Wildfires can be put down more quickly with a Super Scooper’s help--but there’s nothing like an ounce of prevention. After a year of little rain and with the Santa Ana winds on the horizon, it is especially important now to clear brush and use common sense.

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