Calif. firefighters developing wildfire protection plan

Ideally, with vegetation management and hardening structures, 'a house will survive fire without a fire truck in its driveway'

Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

LA VERNE, Calif. — La Verne Fire Department officials are in the process of developing a comprehensive wildfire protection plan to reduce the destructive and grievous toll of wildfires, but they need citizens’ involvement to maximize prevention efforts.

The proposed wildfire protection plan, said Fire Chief Pete Jankowski, hopes “to minimize the wildfire threat to property and people — people being the most important. These fires start quick and get big quickly, depending on weather conditions.”

Relying on combinations of common and scientific sense techniques, Jankowski, Battalion Chief/Fire Marshal Mike Vetti and consultant Dave Kerr of GeoElements have been working since July to put together a protection and prevention plan. Although short notice for the first public forum resulted in no residents attending, they said they hope there will be greater turnout when a second forum is held.

A second public forum will be set after Thanksgiving. Residents can check the website or call the main station, 909-596-5991, for the exact day and time of the forum to be held at La Verne Community Center.

The plan draft should be ready for public comment by early December. Without public participation, the plan is merely paper and non-effective, fire officials fretted.

“This is more about preventing wildfires in the first place through prevention measures such as managing vegetation and hardening structures against wildfire,” Vetti noted.

Simply put, Vetti said the goal is “for a house to survive fire without a fire truck in its driveway.”

And, Jankowski added, “since we don’t have enough fire trucks to be in every single driveway in the city, residents can increase the chance of their homes and them surviving until we get there if they’ve already put certain prevention measures in place.”

The fire marshal suggested several simple prevention measures: installing more drought-resistant landscaping, replacing highly flammable vegetation with fire-resistive vegetation, abating weeds and removing brush and any flammable materials that could further fuel wildfires.

“We want this plan to be a one-stop shop for residents,” the chief claimed. “If you don’t know what’s the best vegetation to put around your house or know your vegetation impacts your neighbor and the community at large, this document will answer those questions.”

The wildland-urban interface also prompts local department, Forest Service, Los Angeles County Fire Department’s Forestry Division and California Fire Safety Council officials to closely collaborate. The city hopes to secure federal grant dollars to implement additional protection measures which further reduce fire threat to open, undeveloped and hillside areas where fires could start and threaten local lives and properties.

Kerr, GeoElements’ fire management specialist, brings science into the fire-prevention equation.

Working with maps of the topography and land mass of La Verne’s 9.2 square miles, Kerr developed computerized models to determine fire spread probability.

“Like with a hurricane, you start at a point most likely for fire,” Kerr explained. “For instance, if a fire started near Wheeler, the probability of it going through north La Verne and ending up in the Angeles National Forest, depending on the wind, is 80 to 100 percent.”

Weather conditions - including extreme heat, extremely low humidity and strong southwest winds which prevail during the general June-to-November fire season - impact probability, Kerr said. So he utilizes information from two weather stations at Tanbark in the Angeles National Forest above the San Dimas Reservoir and the Santa Fe Dam in the Azusa area. He also considers the impact of slopes and vegetation on fire when he starts “digital fires.”

Copyright 2013 Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
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