2017-06-16 / Front Page

Conditions right for fire

Two recent brush fires put out in Moorpark
By Melissa Simon

HOT SPOT—Rains this winter left behind more brush that has since dried out, adding fuel to county hillsides in danger of catching fire. ACORN FILE PHOTO HOT SPOT—Rains this winter left behind more brush that has since dried out, adding fuel to county hillsides in danger of catching fire. ACORN FILE PHOTO Local firefighters say they’re prepared to face what could be the worst fire season in years.

Steve Swindle, a Ventura County Fire Department spokesperson, said firefighters throughout the county train year-round for all possible scenarios. They practice hands-on work with tools and equipment, and study past fires in the region to see how they’ve behaved.

At the command level, VCFD met with Los Angeles City and Los Angeles County fire departments May 31 in an effort to strengthen communication and strategize about how to best use resources in the event of large blaze this summer.

“We’re constantly prepared for fire season because, as they say in Southern California, you never really go out of fire season. And that’s very true,” Swindle said. “We do, however, realize that there’s a very definitive season in the summer months because of the heat and dry weather.”

The hot, dry conditions mixed with heavy rains from this past winter have created “a dangerous combination” because the high amounts of growth and dead vegetation are a “prescription for possibly greater fire activity,” Swindle said.

“The fuels are drying out pretty quickly and when you add to what’s already there and dead, that can be a pretty explosive combination given the right elements,” he said.

Fire Capt. Richard Sauer, who heads Station 43 at 5784 E. Los Angeles Ave. in Simi Valley, said the rains caused grass along hillsides to grow at least 4 to 5 feet.

The grass is considered light fuel, meaning it can burn rapidly and spread into the heavier fuels, like trees or denser vegetation, and cause potentially larger fires, he said.

“It’s been at least 10 years since we’ve seen this kind of growth because of the rain and the problem is that the grass is now dried out and it doesn’t take much to get a fire going,” said Sauer, who has worked for VCFD for 31 years.

“The potential (for fire) becomes great and that’s where something like a spark from a chain dragging on the ground or a cigarette or match can start a fire.”

In 2003, the fast-burning Simi Fire devastated about 108,200 acres in Simi Valley and Moorpark between Oct. 25 and Nov. 5. As a result, 21 people were injured, 278 outbuildings and 37 residences were completely destroyed, and 11 homes were damaged.

Asked how the conditions for this year compare to those leading up to the Simi Fire, Sauer said the rains and new growth has the area “primed for a major fire during a Santa Ana wind event.”

“Those areas haven’t burned since 2003 and fires are like earthquakes. When we say we’re due for a big earthquake, that’s the case here—we’re due for a big fire,” the captain said.

Moorpark has experienced two brush fires in recent weeks.

Around 10 a.m. on Tues., June 13 crews were called to a fire near the Collins Drive on ramp for the eastbound Highway 118.

The fire, which had spread about three acres, was put out around 11:30 a.m.

No structures were threatened, though officials said traffic slowed around the area while fire crews knocked down the blaze.

A few weeks earlier, a 5-acre brush fire burned May 28 along W. Los Angeles Avenue just east of Collins Drive in Moorpark.

Throughout the county, residents living close to the hills and in remote areas are responsible for clearing brush away from their homes and creating a 100-foot defensible space.

The deadline to finish that clearance was yesterday and VCFD will be doing inspections in the coming weeks, Swindle said.

If residents refuse to clear the brush, VCFD will do it and charge the homeowner $1,000.

Return to top