County Supervisors approve motion to enhance proactive fire response in high-risk areas

Fire officials at the scene of a quarter-acre grass fire in the wash underneath Valencia Boulevard. Lorena Mejia/The Signal
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At-risk homeless encampments in riverbeds and wildland areas are not uncommon throughout the region, but some have caused fires, putting individuals experiencing homelessness and surrounding communities in danger. 

But efforts to help reduce these risks and protect lives are underway for the Santa Clarita Valley and other locations in Los Angeles County following unanimous approval by the Board of Supervisors to deploy a multi-agency task force to address the issue. 

On Tuesday, supervisors voted in favor of a motion by Supervisors Kathryn Barger and Hilda Solis for enhanced proactive fire response in high-risk areas by partnering with the county’s emergency services departments, sheriff’s homeless outreach service teams, the L.A. Homeless Services Authority and other county-funded outreach programs. 

In the motion, the supervisors stated that “it is imperative that the county proactively provides enhanced outreach and cleanup in high-risk areas to protect the lives of — and provide services to — people experiencing homelessness, including exploring the capability of responding outside of regular business hours during emergencies and protect the lives of people and property of surrounding communities.” 

Efforts officially commenced last summer, when county departments identified and created a database of homeless encampments in fire hazard severity zones. Data has helped local agencies offer assistance for relocation and removal of material that might be potentially hazardous in these zones, according to the motion. 

With approval Tuesday, efforts will be “ramped up as we approach fire season,” said Dana Vanderford, homeless services deputy for Barger, whose district includes the Santa Clarita Valley. 

“We want to work with the city (of Santa Clarita) in doubling up our efforts,” she said. “Before we go out there, we will need to look at additional funding, but we will work with fire departments for cleanup and with homeless services to connect individuals to housing.” 

Bridge to Home’s switch to year-round operations will play a vital role in offering more beds and services, as “last year we wouldn’t have had a place for them to stay,” she added. 

Riverbeds and wildland areas may provide refuge for the unsheltered but it may also pose significant risks of flooding and, often, fires as a result of cooking fires, such as the 2017 Skirball blaze in a Bel Air neighborhood that destroyed six homes. 

The most recent incidents in the SCV included one in May when a small grass fire ignited in the wash behind the new Porsche dealership, near Auto Center Drive, in Valencia. Crews managed to stop the blaze at a homeless encampment with no injuries or structure damage reported. 

Related incidents are becoming more common, according to fire officials at Fire Station 73 on Railroad Avenue. With a growing homeless population, homeless encampments have also increased in numbers. 

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