Wildfire Season is Here

Published : Monday, July 29, 2019 | 5:52 AM

A one-acre blaze on July 11, 2019 north of Pasadena unofficially marked the beginning of this year's local wildfire season. Image courtesy Deputy Dan Paige, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Dept.

On July 11, Los Angeles County firefighters, with an assist from the Pasadena Fire Department, doused a brush fire on North Kinneloa Canyon Road in East Pasadena. The wildfire season had begun in earnest for the local foothills.

This summer’s fire hazard outlook is uncertain, but the trauma of last year’s massive killer blazes is still raw and fresh in the minds of many Californians.

While the live fuel moisture content in local vegetation is wetter now at 87 percent, as opposed to last year’s 72 percent, San Jose State Fire Weather Research Laboratory Associate Professor Craig Clements said “fuels will continue to dry and so our season can be very critical in the coming months. If we have a long heat-wave that will speed things up.”

A National Weather Service spokesperson said their long-range prediction for Southern California shows a 40 to 50% likelihood that weather will be hotter than normal over the next three months, but no increase in precipitation.

If large fires in the fall are still an open question, smaller ones are now fact with the Kinneloa blaze.

“We were able to respond to that and Los Angeles County had dispatched a helicopter immediately and was able to knock down about a one-acre brush fire the county’s jurisdiction with PFD’s response,” explained Pasadena Deputy Fire Chief Bryan Frieders.

Helicopters that drop water can be very useful in such situations, which may be why the Pasadena City Council on July 22 gave its imprimatur to an agreement with the Los Angeles Fire Department for that same service.

“It would allow water-dropping helicopters to be dispatched immediately once we had a fire that was in Pasadena,” explained Frieders, who attributed the workman-like dousing of the Kinneloa blaze to both fire departments’ capacity for rapid response.

While it has contact with wild areas, Pasadena is largely an urban environment. Nonetheless, the scale, speed and destructive force of recent wildfires in California make preparation for them a common-sense matter for City officials.

To that end Frieders said firefighters are gearing up for the season with proactive weed abatement and cleanout of the Arroyo Seco and environs.

“We’re also taking some pretty aggressive steps with our personnel and our agreements with other local agencies such as [the City of] Los Angeles and Los Angeles County,” said Frieders. “And we’ve trained all of our company officers and chief officers in wildland management, command and control, and incident command as it is related to wildland fires.”

Extra safety measures are required in the season of high alerts and one such measure is extra patrols, as Frieders explained:

“We’ll monitor the National Weather Service red flag warnings and if we determine that the conditions have a fire danger, we will actually staff a fire patrol and we’ll enhance our staffing with one of our engine companies to do patrols in very high fire hazard areas up in the districts that have the wildland urban interface just to make sure that, if something happens, we can get to it very quickly.”

Average response times for the Pasadena Fire Dept. are less than five minutes anywhere in the city, Frieders explained. “But the extra staffing allows us to have an even more enhanced response to something like that so we can prevent it from becoming catastrophic.”

In addition to the aforementioned measures, the Fire department’s command staff will meet in August with counterparts in Angeles National Forest, Los Angeles City and County fire departments, and drive through all the mutual threat zones in Pasadena to discuss potential scenarios.

“So we’re preparing and we’re already talking to our allied agencies before the incident happens so that, if it does happen, we’re prepared and when we have a response, it’ll be a very clear, logical, and coherent coordinated approach to dealing with it quickly.”

 

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