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SINS OF COMMISSION - Time for a New Urban Wildland Fire Strategy? - Part 1

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

News investigations still continue into the cause of Southland wildfires that ravaged more than 41,000 acres. Authorities say they haven’t determined how two weekend wildfires began in Southern California.

(Source: San Francisco Chronicle)

How the fires began is not the point.

Fires start a number of ways, some natural, some not, but, SINS OF COMMISSION has discovered, large-scale urban fire control in the interface regions surrounding urban areas is possible. It all boils down to how to better manage the vegetation in the fuel beds, the large unbroken, usually protected, brush covered hills that surround LA, and extend down to the sea…That’s the point.

I interviewed Scott Franklin, former Fire Captain and Vegetation Management Officer with the County of Los Angeles Fire Department, and author of, “Urban-Wildland Fire Defense Strategy, Precision Prescribed Fire: The Los Angeles County Approach”.

In his exclusive SINS OF COMMISSION interview in July, 2008 - 4 months before the catastrophic Porter Ranch/Sesnon Fires in Los Angeles fires, Mr. Franklin predicted the next firestorm would reach the sea. His prediction almost came true .

 ”…there are critical conditions at the urban-wild land interface range [where homes meet the brush]”

-Scott Franklin, Fire Captain and Vegetation Management Officer, County of Los Angeles Fire Department (ret)

Mature, dense, and continuous chaparral brush fields on steep slopes found in Southern California represent one of the most hazardous fuel situations in the United States. Chaparral grows in an unbroken sea of dense vegetation creating a fuel-rich path which spreads fire rapidly. Chaparral shrubs burn hot and produce tall flames. From the flames come burning embers which can ignite homes and plants. All these factors results in a setting where aggressive defensible space clearing requirements are necessary.

  (Source: State Board of Forestry and Fire Protection (BOF)

California Department of Forestry and Fire) 

Chief Franklin offers a solution, and spoke about a technique to manage chaparral fuels in urban interface regions that have been promoted by the County of Los Angeles Fire Department.  He is not suggesting we apply this technique to areas outside major population centers, a concern expressed by Naturalist Rick Halsey in a recently published LA TIMES article.  Mr. Franklin suggests,

A method to reduce flame lengths, reduce down wind spotting, and reduce emissions while meeting fuel reduction requirements, was found by crushing chaparral and allowing it to cure for several days prior to burning. Crushing and burning has proven to be a highly successful tool in managing vegetation at the urban wild land interface.

-Scott Franklin, Fire Captain and Vegetation Management Officer, County of Los Angeles Fire Department (ret)

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