Officials prepare for fire season

County fire authorities are warning of heighted fire danger this year due to low rainfall and heavy brush. The last major fire in Malibu was the 2007 Corral Canyon fire, pictured above. Scott Palamor

Likelihood of wildfires has increased each year since 2007.

McKenzie Jackson / Special to The Malibu Times

As fire season approaches, emergency officials are warning of an increased potential for wildfires this summer due to dry weather and an abundance of brush. That brush has grown in recent years, as Malibu has dodged major wildfires, according to Brad Davis, emergency services coordinator for the City of Malibu.

“Every time a season goes by and the brush doesn’t burn that means there is more brush for the following season, so this season is one to be concerned about,” Davis said. “Not necessarily one to panic about or anything, but it is a concern.”

Representatives from all the major firefighting authorities in the Southland held a press conference June 18 and warned that dry weather this summer increases the danger of brush fires this year.

Rainfall has been below normal so far this year, Los Angeles County Fire Department Chief Daryl Osby said. That means there is dead grass, trees, bushes and other plants from 2011 and this year still present in wooded areas that could help ignite fires. It could be more problematic if weather predictions for the rest of the summer hold true.

“This year our projection for the fire season is that we’re going to have a warmer, drier summer,” Osby said.

The dry weather and available fuel already appear to be having an effect. Although he could not provide a specific number, county fire department spokesman Quvondo Johnson said there have been twice as many fires in the first six months of 2012 as compared to last year.

The last major fire in Malibu was the 2007 Corral Canyon Fire. That inferno destroyed 53 homes, damaged 35 residences and burned 4,900 acres.

Davis said fire season used to be considered “towards back end of the year to, say, January,” but now it is recognized all year. He said on any hot, dry, and windy day there are fire concerns in urban interface areas.

“The wind is definitely the determining factor, particularly the Santa Ana winds,” he said. “When you put a Santa Ana wind behind a fire there is nothing anybody can do to stop it.”

Davis said the speed of the Santa Ana winds, which blow in from the Great Basin and Mojave Desert, is one of the factor along with low humidity and high temperatures, that determine whether the National Weather Service will issue a red flag warning in order to alert people about potential fire danger.

“We have not had a red flag declaration recently, but that could change,” he said.

Both Johnson and Davis said to expect more fire warnings.

Johnson said LACFD has lots of equipment, including nine helicopters, disposal to fight fires. But he said home and business owners that have property near brush areas are the best defense.

“Clear brush at least 30 feet away from home,” he said. “That just helps the firefighters. Clean pine needles off roof, create a disaster prepare program, and make sure your family knows what to do.”

Davis said in case of a fire people need to have a plan, get supplies, and have an emergency kit ready.

Residents can call the Malibu Emergency Hotline at 310-456-9982 to get the latest hazard or disaster information concerning Malibu. Davis also said citizens can register their cellphones with the City of Malibu’s mass notification system through the city’s website in order to receive information whenever there is an emergency.

“People that have lived in Malibu for some time are aware of how things work, but there are new people coming in all the time, [who] need to be told and they need to be reminded,” he said. “Even though we continue to be aware of these things there are people that need to know about having a plan, knowing what you are going to do, and having disaster supplies ready.”