The Chew Crew

South Pas Fire Chief Paul Riddle stands in the city’s Elephant Hill section on Thursday, when a herd of 110 goats was let loose in a fenced-off, 10-acre area to chew up vegetation that could be fuel for a potential wildfire. Photos by Henk Friezer

These goats are heroes.

South Pasadena has employed — and on Thursday, deployed — 110 horned and hungry grazers to spend the next 20 days, 24/7, gobbling up hazardous vegetation in a very rugged and overgrown 10-acre area of Elephant Hill, along the city’s border with the City of Los Angeles.

It’s not a new strategy — many cities around the state have used the strategy to minimize wildfire dangers — but it marks the first time South Pas has gone the goat route.

Fire Chief Paul Riddle — speaking to a small media gathering Thursday as his newest recruits bleated and chomped behind him — said that Elephant Hill was already considered a high-fire-hazard area, but that last winter’s heavy rains sparked a lot of weed and vegetation growth that’s now dried out, making prime fuel for a potentially dangerous wildfire.

“We’ve considered it in years past, but we really didn’t feel there was justification in terms of the cost justification,” Riddle said.

The area’s rugged terrain, he added, makes it “very difficult for hand crews to go in and navigate through that terrain and cut the vegetation and actually remove the vegetation.”

So cue the goats …

South Pasadena’s newest firefighters get down to business Thursday, shortly after they were released in a temporarily fenced-off area.

“I’ve heard it said, we say I quite often, that there is no actual fire season anymore, it’s a year-round process,” Riddle said. “But with these Santa Ana winds (in the forecast) … we really want to get ahead of managing any type of hazardous vegetation that remains in our city.”

The 10 acres have been fenced off, using an electrified fence with warning signs posted along its length. The Sage Environmental Group, which the city contracted for $20,000 for 20 days, will have a herder on duty round the clock, keeping an eye on the goats and directing them toward eating the most dangerous brush.

“The goats are very well-supervised, so there’s not overgrazing,’’ Riddle said. “They end up removing exactly what we want them to, and that’s invasive weeds and the mustard plants.”

Alissa Cote, principal of Sage, said goats are perfect for such duty.

“What goats do is, they eat all day long – they eat, rest a little bit to digest, they have numerous stomachs, and then they go back out and graze again,” she said.

“Their preference is non-native material such as the non-native grasses that are out here — they absolutely love the black mustard that is here.”

Cote also said the goats do a more thorough job than, say, your average weed-whacker — literally getting to the root of the problem.

“(The vegetation is) actually consumed, so it disappears,’’ she said. “The seed becomes non-viable, and that’s what’s so important for the long-term management – that you’re actually reducing the seed bank, because when they eat it, it doesn’t come out where it will sprout.’’

Riddle said the $20,000 cost for the city is money that is budgeted every year, not an add to the budget.