Fire officials: Don't let the rain fool you

GLENDALE — Rain this week may have added needed moisture to parched hillsides, but officials warned that fire danger remains high.

Small fires have already blackened several acres in Southern California, including a light brush fire near the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge that officials said was sparked by a weed-whacker.

Recent rains have only fueled vegetation growth like the light brush in the JPL incident, fire officials said. And much of the new growth has begun drying out due to increasing temperatures, which prompted the Angeles National Forest this month to raise its fire danger level to high, said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Nathan Judy.

“The moisture we are getting isn’t enough to replenish the growth,” he said.

Recent fires have shown that dry, light grass in low elevations can burn without winds, according to a report used by the region’s public safety agencies to gauge the volatility of vegetation.

Light grass can fuel a fire for up to 10 hours and can spread quickly into trees, causing larger blazes, Judy said.

An above-average rainy winter produced extensive vegetation growth, Glendale Fire Capt. Stuart Stefani said, but future weather conditions and topography will ultimately determine just how bad the fire season will be.

“We will plan for the worst and hope for the best,” he said.

Fire officials have already started clearing brush from hillsides and slopes.

Eliminating overgrown vegetation allows firefighters to lessen the threat of fire destroying homes, said Inspector Matt Levesque of the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

Fire officials across the region have repeatedly called on residents to clear a defensible area around their homes to protect against advancing flames.

Roger Young, president of the Crescenta Valley Fire Safe Council, is working to educate foothill residents, including those who live in Briggs Terrace, about eliminating overgrown brush, which he said has grown back with a vengeance since the massive Station fire.

The Station fire ignited just north of La Cañada on Aug. 26, 2009, burned 160,577 acres and killed two county firefighters.

“The biggest thing is that we can’t become complacent because ‘we had our fire,’” Young said.

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