City official criticizes

fire response

Fire chief says firefighters followed protocol. Cause of fire is still unknown.

By Jonathan Friedman / Assistant Editor

Enflaming controversy over the recent Malibu Road fire, city Councilmember Sharon Barovsky said she would like the local fire stations to review their response policy because she does not believe they reached her home street quickly enough during last month’s blaze. Four homes were destroyed and five others were damaged on Malibu Road on Jan. 8. Assistant Fire Chief Reginald Lee, who oversees the Malibu area, said Barovsky is incorrect about when she said fire officials arrived.

Barovsky made her comments at two consecutive City Council meetings. She told Lee at the Jan. 17 meeting that when she drove out of Malibu Road at 5:20 p.m. on the day of the fire, there were no fire trucks on the street, despite the fire, which originated at Bluffs Parks, having already reached the street. She repeated similar comments at the Jan. 24 meeting, which Lee did not attend.

“I truly believe we wouldn’t have lost a house that day had there been fire trucks there [earlier],” Barovsky said at the Jan. 24 meeting.

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Lee said Barovsky is wrong, and suggested her watch might have had a different time than the fire officials’ did. Although the initial fire truck to respond to the fire was sent to Bluffs Park at 5:04 p.m., there was a truck on Malibu Road at 5:09 p.m., Lee said.

“We were there within seven to 10 minutes,” Lee said. “I understand that seems like a long time when you are where the fire is.”

Lee said it is the Fire Department’s policy to initially respond to where the fire is reported to be, which was Bluffs Park.

“Tactically, that’s the best way to handle it,” Lee said. “If we were to turn it around the other way, and go down the road and save homes [initially], the problem would be you would be reacting to the incident rather than getting ahead of it.”

Lee added that the best way to control a fire from going out of control is by going to the point where it originated, and dealing with it there first, to prevent it from growing wider.

Barovsky clarified her statements this week in a telephone interview, saying, “I am not being critical of the firefighters. We always need to review policies.”

Lee also said this week that it is still not known how the fire was started.

Also at the Jan. 24 meeting, Tony Shafer, the city’s fuel modification specialist on the Environmental Review Board, said he would like an investigation to be done to explore how the amount and kind of vegetation around the homes contributed to the fire. Mayor Ken Kearsley said he would like a panel of local officials and citizens to be created to look into changing the law to prevent any vegetation from being grown within 300 feet of a home. Currently, the Malibu Local Coastal Program states that no vegetation can exist within the first 100 feet of a structure, minimal types of vegetation within the second 100 feet and a few restrictions on the third 100 feet from the home.

“Every house that burned down [in last month’s fire], the plants went [from the homes] right to the edge of the road,” Kearsley said this week in a telephone interview, clarifying his remarks from last week’s meeting. “For 300 feet, there should be no vegetation at all, nothing that burns.”

Kearsley said he promoted the idea of a state law creating the 300-foot rule last month to state officials when he was in Sacramento with Barovsky and City Manager Jim Thorsen, but there was limited interest. He said they will need to work harder on this, and must get the support of Los Angeles County Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman.

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