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Fewer goats needed due to reduced brush

With fires blazing across Los Angeles and Yorba Linda parks this week and dangerous fire conditions coming early this year, local fire authorities are being proactive to prevent wildfires.

The goats herded across Laguna Beach’s hills are part of the city’s effort to prevent wildfires. The goats eat swaths of flammable vegetation near homes and buildings that border undeveloped land. This year there will be 125 fire-preventing goats protecting the city, far fewer than in past years.

Ironically, the goat herd is being cut back because the extra-dry conditions have reduced the amount of vegetation that has grown on the city’s hillsides, City Manager Ken Frank said.

The goats will also be moving through areas at a faster rate.

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Fire Chief Mike Macey said one of the ways to protect homes from wildfire is to create a “defensible space” about 100 to 200 feet wide with no flammable vegetation.

Since 1990, the goats, herded by professional Peruvian goatherds, have traveled up and down the city’s hillsides and wildland borders keeping the space clear of fuel, Macey said.

If an ember from a nearby fire lands in the space, there will be nothing to catch on fire, protecting buildings. Because fire can spread quickly and across vast areas during wind, he said this is a crucial step in saving homes.

“It grows exponentially, not linearly,” Macey said.

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Macey said the number of goats will be decreased this year because there were only about four inches of rain this year. Little rainfall means less plant growth, which in turn means there will be less need for the goats to remove the flammables.

In years of heavy rainfall, such as 2003, as many as 500 goats are used.

The lack of rainfall has also expedited the year’s fire season, he said.

Macey said another precaution the department takes is to work closely with other fire agencies. He said this ensures there will be help from the county and other cities’ departments if there were a blaze Laguna’s couldn’t handle alone.

Capt. Stephen Miller of the Orange County Fire Authority, which protects the acres around Laguna Beach’s borders, said the conditions for wildfire are acutely dangerous.

He said the high temperatures, low humidity and high winds Orange County is experiencing are prime wildfire conditions.

“We’ve been experiencing some really intense fire conditions over the last few months,” Miller said. “Hold on, cause this is a heck of a fire season, we’re in an explosive condition right now.”

Both firefighters said the best way to combat wildfires is prevention.

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Macey said the Laguna Beach Fire Department sent out 18,000 letters to homes that border wild zones to warn them to keep brush cleared.

The Orange County Fire Authority offers these tips on keeping homes fire safe:

  • Remove all dead and flammable vegetation within 30 feet of the property;
  • Thin the vegetation the next 70 feet out from the property and plant fire resistant plants such as cactus;
  • Replace single-paned windows with double or triple-paned windows;
  • Install residential fire sprinklers;
  • Keep woodpiles away from buildings.
  • A more complete list of preventive measures can be found at www.OCFA.org.

    Miller said the most important thing for people to remember is to abide by an evacuation order.

    Miller said a garden hose is not an effective fire prevention tool, nor is wetting the roof of a house. He said it is safer to leave than to try to protect a home if a fire is close.


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