Fire chief rings early bell for inspections 

The Tick Fire burned more than 20 structures in 2020, according to Fire Chief Pat Sprengel. Signal File phoro
The Tick Fire burned more than 20 structures in 2020, according to Fire Chief Pat Sprengel. Signal File phoro
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Fire officials are hoping L.A. County homeowners in the Santa Clarita Valley will have their properties ready for fire season inspections by May 1, according to a recent talk by L.A. County Fire Chief Pat Sprengel. 

Sprengel laid out the reasoning behind, process for, and timing of the state-mandated inspections during a presentation at the Castaic Area Town Council’s virtual town hall meeting Nov. 15. 

However, the requirements for the clearance actually apply to the whole SCV, according to Aaron Williams, a forestry assistant with the county Fire’s Defensible Space Unit. 

“Homes in the high (and) very high fire hazard severity zones are included in the ‘dec list,’” he said in a phone interview Tuesday, referring to a list of homes that is presented to the Board of Supervisors each year under a state law that compels the annual inspections. 

Williams said the different regions are chosen for different times based on when the local vegetation begins to cure — the beginning of its combustibility — which is why the high desert region, starting in the Antelope Valley, has an April 1 deadline, for example. 

Fire officials are worried residents might become complacent this fire season because last year, unseasonably early rains from tropical storms “put the kibosh on our fire season” in August, Sprengel said. 

“With the projections going into this next year, I certainly think that there’s some moisture that will be coming and what that usually equates to is more fuel and more brush to burn, so we’ll really have to be vigilant going into this next year.” 

The program begins Feb. 1 to send out notices, which are intended to prepare residents for the upcoming inspections with what fire officials are seeking, Sprengel said. 

“The firefighter off the engine will approach your address, he will knock on the door,” Sprengel said. “You’ll certainly be more than able to approach them if you’re there and ask questions.” 

There are a few main concerns firefighters will be watching out for in addition to 15 feet of defensible space for your property, he added.  

“The big things that we ask is: that tall grass is cut down; that the roof lines are clear of excess material; tree litter, that means, leaves that means what have you, anything that could be combustible,” he continued. “Clean your roofs, clean your eaves, clean your gutters … That’s probably 90% of what we’re looking for from residents to make their properties fire-ready.” 

He said the firefighters will be looking at all four sides of the property, including the backyard, to ensure there’s at least 15 feet, because that’s what they need to get in there and be able to protect properties if there’s a wind-driven fire. Sprengel mentioned the Tick Fire as the last time they had to deal with that, and 27 structures were lost in the 40,000-acre fire. The goal is to lose no structures, he added. 

Two Town Council members, Jim D’Addario and Chris Dittes, brought up concerns they said they’d heard from their constituents. 

Part of the issue, which Dittes said he could sympathize with, is that many property owners are governed by homeowners association rules that compel fire clearance, making their compulsory fire inspection and accordant fee an unnecessary expense. He also questioned the process. 

“I’ve spoken to dozens of neighbors in my neighborhood, and there’s not one person who can claim that they have had their door knocked on and had any discussion or any contact at all about fire personnel and about this inspection,” he said, adding that some did mention they had video of fire trucks driving by their neighborhood.  

Sprengel said he didn’t know exactly what happened in every neighborhood, calling the project “an incredible lift” that’s state-mandated and involved the inspection of more than 22,000 properties in the SCV and just shy of 5,000 in Castaic alone each year.  

“I ask our firefighters to make contact with the resident if they’re at home, and we’ll do our best to make contact with you,” he said. 

D’Addario asked if residents would be able to see a fire official’s report on their own home, which Sprengel said is possible. 

Maria Grycan, regional representative for the agency, also mentioned another important aspect of the inspections, and why owners should hold on to the compliance letter they receive from the Fire Department once their home is cleared and ready.  

“You really need to hang on to it,” Grycan said, noting that anyone who is thinking about selling their home in the following year will need the report of the letter, due to Assembly Bill 38. 

“It will show that you’ve had a defensible space inspection,” she said.  

A home that isn’t in compliance will receive a notice about why, and then a return visit within about 30 days.

The presentation can be viewed in the recording of the town council’s meeting at tinyurl.com/5n6hzyck. The presentation begins at the 10:10 mark. 

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