The Next Fire is Coming, the Time to Prepare is Now

The Flores Fire on Monday, July 19

The City of Malibu is gearing up against what could be a disastrous wildfire season. So far, 2021 has all the hallmarks leading to dangerous conditions: low rainfall contributing to drought and unseasonably dry, hot and often windy conditions.

In these conditions ripe for wildfire, the city has teamed with the Los Angeles County Fire Department (LACoFD) on a number of fronts to be better prepared for what experts say is certain to happen again: a brush fire in Malibu.

According to the city, the fire department is “deploying additional resources in the Malibu area.” Malibu public safety officials have already been on top of sending emergency and weather alerts and posting announcements on social media and the city website when fire conditions are forecast or if a fire occurs that could threaten Malibu. 

Since one of the most important approaches to fire safety is brush clearance, the city recently initiated a new grant program to help with the removal of hazardous trees. Residents with dead and dying hazardous trees can sign up to have those trees removed for free later this summer. The program is being funded by a $324,000 wildfire prevention grant the city received from the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. In addition, the city will be holding Community Chipper and Green Waste Days in September to provide residents an opportunity to dispose of large amounts of fire-hazardous vegetation, including dead vegetation from brush clearance that was required to be complete by June 1. Sign-ups, schedules and all other information will be posted at as soon as it is available. 

Malibu’s new fire safety liaison, Chris Brossard, cited brush clearance as critical and reminded residents the June 1 deadline has passed, but that it is never too late to clear brush from the perimeter of your home. While many in Malibu have complained that their neighbors do not clear brush, Brossard said the LACoFD does conduct enforcement. Brossard said he personally accompanied crews in Malibu in early July as they tagged homes in non-compliance, although he did admit there are some private areas not accessible for inspection. Property owners cited for non-compliance are subject to brush removal by LACoFD-hired crews and will be billed for the expense.

The city also announced a whole slate of fire preparedness-related updates in a recent message to residents.

Among the updates was additional steps to combat homeless encampments that have been linked to brush fires. Public safety department staff are working to acquire letters of agency from the owners of undeveloped properties. A letter of agency enables sheriff’s department personnel to remove trespassers from properties without specific requests from property owners. Staff is also working with the property owners to have items left behind removed to reduce the likelihood of people returning. The city is trying to strengthen its nuisance code in an effort to keep undeveloped property clear of encampments.

The city also announced its Zero Power Plan to communicate emergency information during widespread power outages that are caused by public safety power shutoffs (Southern California Edison’s intentional blackouts), high winds or other emergency conditions. One of the major challenges posed by the 2018 Woolsey Fire was that cellphone, internet, electricity, and landline phone infrastructure was damaged causing a virtual citywide communications blackout.  That hindered emergency communications, making evacuations and the fire even more dangerous. The Zero Power Plan includes setting up emergency information stations across the city, deploying changeable message signs, broadcasting emergency information on KBUU 99.1 FM, outfitting city vehicles with loudspeakers and flashing lights for CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) volunteers to use to assist with evacuations and more. 

The city has also partnered with CERT to install radio repeaters in key locations to boost the signal of handheld radios so that city personnel and CERT team members can communicate when power is down. 

The city purchased back-up generators for key traffic signals along Pacific Coast Highway that can be deployed during an emergency when there is an extended, widespread power outage. Caltrans, at the city’s request, has improved traffic signals on PCH in Malibu by installing new backup batteries and installing highly reflective strips on the signal faces so they are more visible at night. 

In a message of preparedness, Malibu Mayor Paul Grisanti stated, “With climate change making huge fires the new normal in California, every small brush fire should be a reminder that the next big wildfire is just around the corner, not just in peak wildfire season.”