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So Pas Fire Officials Remind Residents About Brush Clearance

Recent Rains Have Helped with Drought but Have Created ‘Flashy Fuels’
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Recent rains have caused vegetation to grow at an alarming rate that can become fuel for fires. So Pas fire officials are starting brush clearance early. Photo by Steve Whitmore

The blessing of the recent rainstorms, which has put a rather large dent in the years of drought, has brought with it another, more ominous challenge.

All of the green vegetation will once again turn brown when the hot summer months hit and become easy fuel for fire.

This is the usual time when the brush around homes and streets, especially narrow ones in the Monterey Hills area of South Pasadena, need to be maintained and cut. In some cases, the brush needs to be cut way back to allow easy and quick passage for firefighters needing to get to an emergency call.

Moreover, this year, brush clearance is even more on the collective minds of firefighters because of the recent rains.

“With the amount of recent rains that we had, it’s a double-edged sword, because not only does it help with growth of vegetation, it promotes excessive growth,” So Pas Fire Chief Paul Riddle said during a recent interview. “What we are concerned about is when that vegetation starts to die out as we start getting into warmer months. We are going to be starting our vegetation-management program and our annual brush inspections a little early this year. What we are asking is for our homeowners to be a little more mindful and just realize that they are going to get some quick growth of grasses.” 

Typically, the South Pasadena Fire Department (SPFD) requires clearance of 30 feet around a structure anywhere in the city. However, in a high-hazard hill area such as Monterey Hills, the clearance is up to 100 feet and in some extreme cases such as vacant lots, that clearance can be up to 200 feet, according to Riddle.

Riddle also said this year is more important than years past because of the robust moisture in the air.

“It’s those quick growth of grasses, we consider them flashy fuels, that we are really going to ask our homeowners to clear away as soon as possible,” Riddle said. “Once it dies, it becomes dead vegetation. We’re going to want to clear that out as soon as possible.”

Clearing away brush from around the house creates a natural barrier that fire usually cannot penetrate. Brush clearance alone has meant the difference between an untouched home and a home leveled by fire, Riddle said.

“Removing the dead and dying vegetation from around your home creates a defensible space, which allows Fire Department resources adequate time to respond to any reported fires,” Riddle said.

Riddle also said a target-rich area is the southwest quadrant of the city.

“The target area is the southwest corner of the city as our high-hazard area,” Riddle said. “So, west of Meridian Avenue and south of Monterey Road and working into L.A. city. That whole southwestern quadrant of our community is what we consider the high-hazard hill area.”

The SPFD usually starts its inspection program in May but this year it is starting next week. Riddle stressed that when homeowners get a brush-inspection notice they should take care of the situation quickly. If a homeowner does not get a notice, it’s because the property is in compliance.

Once a notice is received, though, the homeowner has 14 days to make the necessary correction contained in the communication. If nothing is done, fire officials will extend the time to seven days after a second inspection. If still nothing is done, the clearance will eventually occur and the responsible party may have to foot the bill. Riddle allowed that thus far that has not been an issue in South Pasadena.

“I want to thank the residents in advance for year after year continuing to do an outstanding job,” he said. “They realize it’s important for all of us to work together on this issue and just to make sure at the end of the day, that we are as safe as we can be as a community.”

Fire officials also will be conducting brush inspections through the summer to ensure there has been no regrowth of hazardous vegetation. Riddle also said that homeowners can contact the fire department “at any time” with questions regarding brush clearance requirements.

Riddle offered one last cautionary reminder to So Pas residents about the bounty of vegetation resulting from the long-overdue rains this past winter.

“It only takes one or two days for elevated temperatures and low relative-humidity for the fuel moisture to drop very low to dangerous levels,” he said. “Clearing away the brush is most important this year.”

For further information, please contact the Fire Department at (626) 403-7300.

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Steve Whitmore is the editor for the South Pasadena Review. Steve has spent more than four decades as an award-winning print and broadcast journalist with a 16-year stint as the senior media advisor for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Steve comes to us from the Keene Sentinel in Keene, New Hampshire, where he covered politics and was a columnist.

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