Dense brush along Kanan Corridor heightens fire threat to west Malibu communities


Spared by the fires of recent years and now densely packed with dried brush, the hills along Kanan Road are this season’s primary passageway for a potential wildfire burning from inland to the sea. Consequently, Malibu-based L.A. County fire officials are keeping a close eye on those hills, which they call the “Kanan Corridor.”

Uncontained fires originating in or near the Kanan Corridor have, because of wind patterns, historically threatened Malibu Park, Trancas Canyon and Broad Beach.

“We’ve had fires out at the western end [October 1993], in Topanga [November 1993] and the Calabasas fire [October 1996] ” said Cliff Sybert, a county fire battalion chief. “Kanan has the oldest brush and the oldest dead material.”

Fire officials have set controlled fires along Kanan Road to create buffer zones against rapidly-moving wildfires. “Any fuel we can remove slows the fire down,” said Sybert.

The prescribed burns, some as large as 100 acres, were conducted in the early morning hours on five occasions in August.

The National Park Service and the county are also coordinating a prescribed burn in Zuma Canyon, planned for later this month. Charlie Whitman, a prescribed-burn technician with the park service, said the controlled burn there was held off until September because the moisture level in the canyon’s lush plant life was too high from the heavy rains earlier this year.

“The moisture level is down finally,” said Whitman. “El Nino, on the whole, did create a higher live fuel moisture.”

The prescribed burns are set only under the strictest air quality and weather conditions. The AQMD will not permit the burns if the air is too smoggy, and fire officials will not conduct a controlled fire if wind speeds are too high or if the moisture level in the marine layer is too low.

In addition to the prescribed burns, the fire department’s brush clearance unit inspected more than 2,000 properties to ensure that owners have removed brush from within 200 feet of their homes. Sybert said a few property owners refused to clear the brush themselves. Those landowners were fined $400 for the cost of county workers removing the brush, and their cases were referred to the city attorney’s office. City Attorney Christi Hogin is on vacation and could not be reached for comment.

See related story, “Life and Arts”