Cautious optimism about fire season

La Cañada Flintridge is heading into the thick of fire season in good shape, according to Assistant Fire Chief Bill Niccum, who told the City Council at its meeting Monday night that the third week of October has historically proven to be the most dangerous time for fires.

Niccum said that dry vegetation remaining from summer, combined with hot, dry Santa Ana winds that typically arrive in late October, push the risk of a major fire to the highest point of the year.

Despite that, Niccum said the city is well prepared, noting in particular that there have been new investments in water-drop aircraft in the wake of the 2009 Station fire. L.A. County Fire has been able to quickly extinguish several fires that each involved about 20 to 30 acres so far this season, Niccum reported.

“We’re doing real well,” said Niccum. “Between our helicopters, the contract helicopters, the super scoopers, we’re getting some great knock-down on these fires.”

In addition to addressing the threat of a major wildfire, Niccum reported that La Cañada has been seeing an encouraging drop in structure fires. There was one structure fire in September and just five in the city so far this year. The September fire caused minimal damage and was confined to a hallway adjacent to a utility room, Niccum said.

According to Niccum, the city averages nine structure fires a year, and so is on pace to beat the average this year.

The City Council questioned Niccum about the city’s designation this year by Cal Fire, the state fire agency, as very-high-fire-hazard-severity zone. This designation was applied to the entire city on Jan. 18, with the adoption of the latest building and fire codes.

Niccum said that La Cañada Flintridge, as a hillside city with a tree line that extends down into the city core, could be impacted by an effect called “laddering fuels,” in which fire travels down the tree line.

The designation impacts building and fire codes, must be disclosed when selling property and could be one factor used in determining insurance rates.

Mayor Pro Tem Steve Del Guercio said that the city trusted Cal Fire’s judgment, but just wanted to understand the reasons for the designation and its impacts.

“Now there’s a lot more regulation, a lot more costs with trying to go and improve your home,” said Del Guercio. “[I’m] not saying some of those aren’t good, but it’s a higher cost, and the question is if it’s justified.”

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