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Santa Clarita Lacks Wildfire Prevention Plan

| News | November 29, 2018

The Woolsey fire killed three people, burned almost 97,000 acres, destroyed 1,643 structures and caused some 295,000 people to evacuate. Can a similar fire devastate Sana Clarita in the future?

It’s something community activist Alan Ferdman wonders, especially after reading City Manager Ken Striplin’s article in Sunday’s Signal describing what people can do to prepare for such disasters.

“Well, what are you going to do to prevent it from happening?” Ferdman, the chair of the Canyon Country Advisory Committee, asked. “They purchased a lot of open space around the city, especially here on the east side, and it just creates a bunch of fuel for brush fires. What is the city planning to do to help keep our side of the city safe?”

The city has more than 4,000 acres of open space surrounding it. As Ferdman pointed out, “If you have open space and you don’t develop it out here, all it does is it creates a large amount of brush that grows in the winter and becomes dead in the summer, and a spark sets it off.”

Two years ago, the Sand fire killed one person, burned two buildings and ran through more than 41,000 acres. One thing that and the Woolsey fire had in common was the abundance of dry brush, specifically chaparral.

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In September 1970, winds pushed several fires into a solid 20-mile-long wall from Newhall to Malibu. Ten people died, 403 homes were lost and more than 435,000 acres were burned. The Los Angeles Times called this fire “Southern California’s worst ever.”

Members of the city council seemed at a loss to explain what the plans are.

“It’s a good question,” Mayor Pro-Tem Marsha McLean said. “Obviously, it’s extremely important to have plans in place.”

McLean mentioned that no homes can be built in the open space, which she said would help curtail loss of property. But she also acknowledged that fires don’t limit themselves to just undeveloped areas, and winds can send sparks into residential areas.

Councilmember Bob Kellar said he knows of no plans to clear the brush. “We have thousands of acres now of open space in total. I will tell you it’s not likely we’re going to put Rain Birds out there,” he said. “We are at the mercy of Mother Nature, largely, when it comes to that circumstance. I don’t see anything different in that regard other than trying to be as prepared as we can.”

Mayor Laurene Weste is a big proponent of open space, as her bio on the city’s website says she would like to see additional open space acquired. Yet when this reporter called to ask about the city’s plans for fire prevention, she said she was on another call and abruptly hung up.

According to city spokesperson Carrie Lujan, the city manages vegetation around all roads, access points and trailheads, reseeds fire breaks with fire-resistant foliage, and trims and removes brush and grasses in open-space areas that abut neighborhoods. Additionally, the Los Angeles County Fire Department routinely assesses defensible spaces around neighborhoods to ensure proper brush clearance and, if necessary, recommends other methods of vegetation management, she said.

“Fire crews also have plans in place to fight fires in hard to access open space locations. This includes the best access routes, which roads the water tenders should take, where they can fill up, as well as local helispots for helicopters to pick up water,” Lujan said in an email. “As the City continues to acquire land, we continue to review management of our Open Space.”

As far as Ferdman is concerned, the plan doesn’t say anything.

“Are they going to cut fire trails? Are they going to put in piping for water in case the Forestry Service needs it?” he asked. “What’s their plan?”

Ferdman said he planned to discuss it at Wednesday’s Canyon Country Advisory Committee meeting, and query the city council at its next meeting.

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About Lee Barnathan

Lee Barnathan has been a writer and editor since 1990. His articles have been published in newspapers, magazines and online. His new book "If You Experience Death, Please Call and Other Fatal Mistakes We Make With Language," a humorous look at the ways people misuse English, is available on Amazon or at his website, www.leebarnathan.com. He is hired by people all over the country to help them refine the message or story they wish to share with their target audience or demographic.

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