LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE — With the onset of dry summer conditions and fewer resources due to statewide budget constraints, local fire officials last week warned residents to be prepared for a tough fire season.
The danger of fire in the Angeles, Cleveland and San Bernardino national forests reached a high mark before Memorial Day, Angeles National Forest Supervisor Jody Noiron said at a news conference in the hills above La Cañada Flintridge.
“It’s very early in the season for us to be going into such a high level, but what folks need to understand is . . . please do not become complacent,” she said. “Please do not become complacent because of the rainfall we have had this winter. Do not become complacent because of the June gloom . . . It is drying out very rapidly up there within the national forest.”
Representatives of fire agencies in Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties met last week with other emergency officials to coordinate their firefighting tactics.
They advised foothill residents to also prepare a “Ready, Set, Go” wildfire action plan.
The fire season has already begun in Southern California, with 240 fires torching 2,200 acres and one structure, Riverside Fire Chief John Hawkins said.
“We asked that the public not be complacent, and they do their brush clearance and be sure that they understand that weather is the serious factor that affects wildfire spread,” he said.
Of the 20 largest fires in California history, more than half occurred in the last four years, Hawkins said.
A prolonged drought and dry vegetation have contributed to the increase in fires, said Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman of the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
“That’s why . . . we emphasize the importance to the public to prepare your property, to be ready, to be set, and when asked to evacuate, please cooperate and remove yourself and your loved ones and animals so that the firefighters can focus on protecting your property and trying to protect their lives,” he said.
Another concern for fire agencies is dwindling statewide budgets, said Fire Chief Kim Zagaris of the California Emergency Management Agency.
About 1,000 fire agencies were generally available to provide additional support statewide during the typical fire season, but that dwindled by 10% last year due to local city budget cuts, he said.
“We are also looking for the citizens to help us with ‘Ready, Set, Go,’ and also take responsibility for their own areas to help us so we can provide a better defense when the fire does arrive near their homes,” Zagaris said.
Local fire officials have also begun inspections of homes in fire zones to ensure compliance with brush-clearance rules. Most require hundreds of feet worth of cleared area around structures to create defensible space during a fire.
“When the bells go off, we will be there, and the services will be provided,” Burbank Fire Chief Ray Krakowski said. “The citizenry are doing their part in prepping their properties.”
The Glendale Fire Department began its annual brush-clearing program May 1 and has conducted its first round of inspections.
While the Station fire charred lots of brush in north Glendale and the surrounding foothills, plenty of vegetation remains in other high-risk neighborhoods, including Whiting Woods, Chevy Chase Canyon, Glenoaks Canyon and Sparr Heights, Glendale Fire Chief Harold Scoggins said.
“Those are areas we are very concerned with, and we always talk to the community about making sure that they are aware of what is going on and being prepared,” Scoggins said.
Property owners and residents who must maintain a defensible space around their homes receive a 30-day abatement notice. An extension may be granted if more time is needed.
Burbank and Glendale fire officials said their compliance rates have always been high.
“This vigilance is one of the major reasons no homes were lost in Glendale during the wildfires of 2009,” Glendale Fire Capt. Vincent Rifino said.