Thank Your Local Firefighter
In the end, it took embarrassment. Neighbors of a house on Zane Grey Terrace in the Altadena foothills carefully photographed the tinderbox of brushy growth around the home. Soon the fuel that could have fed a fire was removed. There’s a reason why the residents had little patience: Only one of their hillside homes survived the Southern California wildfires of 1993, and this year the danger seems as great, if not more so.
Fire officials throughout the West say the current fire season has the potential to be one of the worst in recent years. Consider it El Nino’s last unwelcome gift. The heavy rains of the past winter spawned tremendous growth of grasses and other flora that are now drying out in the summer heat. Vigilant neighbors are important but sometimes hard to come by.
In the Santa Monica Mountains last year, for example, the owners of 16,000 parcels of land received orders to trim trees, clear brush and make other preparations. Just slightly more than half did so. Yes, Los Angeles County officials eventually have intransigent owners’ land cleared, but by one estimate they reached only one of every seven such parcels in 1997. The situation is similar in Hemet, where compliance on orders to cut weeds on vacant lots has been slow.
The standards vary just slightly between jurisdictions: heavy brush cleared within 100 feet to 200 feet of your home; grass and weeds trimmed to three inches; shrubs and trees cut back and spaced 18 feet apart; roofs cleared of leaves and other combustibles.
Meanwhile, the firefighters are getting ready. Orange County fire officials, for example, have reduced fuel with controlled burns and have declared the most dangerous wilderness areas off-limits to the public. This means their work will be easier in coming months, except when homeowners fail to take the right and sensible precaution of clearing a ring of defensible space. It ought to be clear by now that the best way to thank a firefighter is by cutting down on the workload.