With fire season bearing down, Los Angeles County firefighters from La Cañada’s Station 82 and Station 19 are conducting daily property inspections to ensure hazards have been properly cleared from structures, fire officials said this week.
The inspections, which began in May and will continue through this month, are concentrated along the city’s northern perimeter where hundreds of homes are built into the foothills of the Angeles National Forest.
Property owners are required to clear brush 200 feet from structures or to the property line, Capt. Adrian Murrieta said.
"[Most embers] travel by ground,” Murrieta said. “They will hit the ground fuels and they will creep along the ground until they find a tree and burn themselves up. And then they will drop back down and find more fuels along the ground.”
But dried brush is just the beginning of a long list of potential fire hazards, officials said. They include wood piles stacked against houses, debris-ridden roofs, clogged gutters, wood lattices, storage containers, supplementary fuel tanks and recreational vehicles.
Many residents are attracted to La Cañada because of the semi-rural setting, Battalion Chief Mitch Brookhyser said, but that aesthetic can also mean an increased fire risk. Shingle roofs, wood side paneling and overgrown trees can endanger not just a single home but an entire neighborhood, he said.
“If a person next door doesn’t do the clearance, your house could catch on fire due to someone’s lack of taking action,” Brookhyser said.
And while last year’s historic Station fire diminished the imminent threat of a forest fire, the risk to private properties remains.
“Certainly something could happen in somebody’s backyard that could still burn up to their house and catch their house on fire,” Brookhyser said. “It is still going to be dry. It is still going to be windy. Those conditions aren’t going to change.”
Some individuals are physically incapable of clearing away flammable materials, or can’t afford to pay a landscaping crew to do it for them, Brookhyser said. Others are resistant to being told what to do on their property. And occasionally, firefighters encounter pack-rat-like conditions.
Offenders are given formal notices, and if problems persist L.A. County Fire can levy fines for the cost of dispatching crews to do the work.
But the large majority of residents comply with the requirements, Brookhyser said.
“Just a little bit of pre-planning and preparation by doing some clearance could save most people’s biggest investment, which is their home,” Brookhyser said.