The City of Malibu’s new fire safety liaison hit the ground running since coming on board in March. Chris Brossard replaces the retired Jerry Vandermeulen who was hired after the Woolsey Fire wiped out hundreds of homes in the city. The 41-year-old brings expertise as a former wildland firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service for 17 years.
The Malibu Times spoke with Brossard about the need to be proactive with fire prevention.
“Fire season is becoming longer due to weather patterns. It is here earlier this year because of the lack of rainfall,” Brossard described. “We have a lot lower fuel moisture levels. Our fuel moisture levels in the month of June were relatively where they typically are in August. So, we’re accelerated by a few months. The potential for fires is there because we do have in the Malibu area—especially on the east side of Malibu—an abundance of old fuel that hasn’t burned since anywhere between 1993 and 1996.”
Brossard pointed out that the majority of fires that burn in wildlands are sparked by embers. “When we have a fire, especially a wind-driven fire, the amount of embers that are flying through the air—it’s an unimaginable amount,” the fire safety liaison continued. “They’re just continuous as the fire’s burning. These embers can travel up to a mile or further ahead of the flaming front of the fire. So, it just creates basically spot fires. Homes are essentially another fuel source for a fire. A fire doesn’t know that it’s a residence. A fire finds a receptive fuel source. An ember will find a receptive fuel bed such as a wood chip planter and it will land in there and smolder until it generates enough heat to support combustion and then we’ll have an open flame. That open flame will spread to anything that is flammable.”
The new fire liaison, as his predecessor did, is conducting free home hazard assessments.
“I will come to your home, walk your property, look at your landscaping and offer suggestions of what you can change and how you can harden your home to better your chances of survival during a wildfire,” Brossard offered.
The fire safety expert offered tips urging homeowners to use hardscape, gravel, concrete pavers and other non-combustible mulch material.
“Remove all the dead or dying weeds, grass, plants, shrubs and debris such as pine needles and leaf litter in general,” Brossard suggested. “Get up on your roof to check the valleys and gutters to clean debris. Leaves blow up on the roof and into the gutters. These are often overlooked. It just takes one ember landing in your gutter and instantaneously you can have a fire there that will then spread to the roof and the rest of your house.
“Limit the plants around your home,” he continued. “Remove vegetation from the first five feet of the home. That’s important because if you have flammable vegetation within the first five feet of the home, you have potential for fire to travel right against your structure. Another often overlooked situation is for homeowners with wood burning fire places to remove firewood at least 30 feet away from any structures.”
Homeowners with wooden fences can harden their property by replacing any section of fence that is up against the structure. “Take that wooden fence off and replace it with a non-combustible fence such as a wrought iron gate or something that eliminates a continuous fuel. If you have a wooden fence that catches fire we don’t want a continuous fence that is allowed to burn all the way up against the structure.”
Importantly, Brossard advised removing any and all vegetation underneath cantilevered porches or balconies.
“Malibu has a lot of homes perched on hillsides with decks,” he said, adding, “It just takes an ember to get under there and once that brush is going that’s going to transfer its heat and energy to the wooden deck and that will transfer to the house.”
Brossard also made some suggestions.
“Install ember resistant vents. Box in eaves. Make sure your garage door has a good seal on the bottom to prevent the wind from driving embers inside,” he said. “These are easy things people can do. Some of these things are easy enough to do yourself.”
More safety tips can be found at ReadyForWildfire.org