Fire Safety Requires Planning

If you’re looking for a New Year’s resolution, here’s one suggested by the 600-acre brush fire that threatened homes in Westlake Village last week: Take fire prevention measures now.

For all San Fernando Valley area residents, this means buying a fire extinguisher and installing smoke alarms or checking batteries.

For those who live in canyons, on hillsides and on the urban fringe where houses abut open spaces covered with fire-fueling brush, prevention is more complicated--and even more crucial.

Property owners in these high-risk areas are required to clear brush within 200 feet of structures and 10 feet of roads. Lawns should be kept trimmed, and flammable materials such as leaves and twigs should be swept off roofs.


Some residents--incredibly--complain about these requirements, especially when they’re fined for not complying by city- or county-set deadlines (April for the Antelope Valley desert zone, May for inland communities such as Chatsworth, Calabasas, Westlake Village, Agoura Hills, Santa Clarita, La Canada Flintridge and La Crescenta).

Yet when fire does strike--and in dry, windy Southern California, it will--property owners time and again credit brush clearing with saving their homes. They did again just last week in Westlake Village, where firefighters stopped the blaze fewer than 100 feet from the 648-unit Hidden Canyon Condominiums.

On the flip side, a single unkempt lot can put an entire neighborhood at risk.

In addition to the required brush clearing, homeowners can further protect their property by using fire-resistant, protective roofing and materials like stone, brick and metal and by creating fire-safe zones using stone walls, patios or swimming pools. They can consult with their local nurseries about landscaping with high-moisture plants that resist ignition.


Residents should have in place--and put in practice--an evacuation plan. Again, people who have been through brush fires, including those last week, emphasize how unbelievably quickly the fire spreads.

And residents from throughout the Los Angeles area should remind themselves never to throw cigarette butts out the car window or drive or park a vehicle in dry, grassy areas. Last week’s fire is believed to have been caused by sparks from a van driven through heavy brush.

With this year’s “rainy season” producing no significant rainfall since late October, now is the time to take steps to ensure a safe new year.