It’s an ideal time for controlled burns — cool temps, no wind

A Los Angeles County Fire Department truck moves quickly to scene.
A Los Angeles County Fire Department truck moves quickly to scene. Katharine Lotze/The Signal
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If you saw smoke or smelled smoke around the Santa Clarita Valley this past week and wondered why you saw no mention of a brush fire, it’s because firefighters jumped on the chance to get rid of brush fire fuel while it’s cool and windless.

Since Monday, fire crews have been going to spots where brush fires are likely to break out and getting rid of the stuff that fuels them — the brush.

On Wednesday, between 8 a.m. and noon, about a dozen work crews including a handful of paid firefighter teams and about half a dozen crews made up of inmates set up on the 32100 block of Castaic Lake Drive.

“If we had enough fire goats to eat up thousands of acres, we’d have them out there — but we don’t,” said Sky Cornell, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

“Goats can eat an acre a day,” he said. “So, instead, we have crews out there to burn all that off right now.”

The controlled burns were done this week since the weather allows it.

“We do them now because it’s windy and it’s not too hot,” Cornell said.

A controlled burn is a strategically set fire intended to burn dry brush. They reduce the fuel in areas considered likely to burn so that a fire there during the height of wildfire season will be more easily extinguished.

Every year, fire officials bring in bulldozers, set up fire lines and put hoses down for carrying out prescribed fires.

Typically, fire crews start at the top of a ridge and do a test burn to see if lighting a small area is OK. Then they progress to (igniting) larger strips.

Bigger wildfires and more of them are what fire officials have told civic leaders to expect, in light of the devastating Woolsey Fire last year.

In December, Los Angeles County supervisors paid $4.5 million to learn what fire officials need to fight deadly wildfires, such as the Woolsey Fire.

They agreed to hire a consultant who would conduct a one-year public outreach project.

It was their understanding that such a project would “create awareness of the new realities” faced by the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

The county fire chief is expected to report back to the board with a status, as well as a final report at the end of the project.

Supervisors called the Woolsey Fire “the worst to hit Los Angeles County in modern history,” noting it raged for almost two weeks, burning through 97,000 acres, including pristine open space in the Santa Monica Mountains.

It destroyed 2,000 structures and displaced thousands of residents. According to the needs assessment performed earlier this year, the cost for replacing old fire engines, purchasing additional helicopters and replacing their communications system is over $170 million.

The cost for repairing fire stations — and in some cases replacing fire stations that are over 50 years old — is close to $750 million.

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