Brush Clearance Inspection Program
The Brush Clearance Program is a joint effort between the County of Los Angeles Fire Department and the County of Los Angeles Department of Agricultural Commissioner/Weights and Measures, Weed Hazard and Pest Abatement Bureau (Weed Abatement Division). This unified enforcement legally declares both improved and unimproved properties a public nuisance, and where necessary, requires the clearance of hazardous vegetation. These measures create “Defensible Space” for effective fire protection of property, life and the environment. The Department’s Brush Clearance Unit enforces the Fire Codes as it relates to brush clearance on improved parcels, coordinates inspections and compliance efforts with fire station personnel, and provides annual brush clearance training to fire station personnel.
Fuel Modification Plan Check Review
Our objective is to create the Defensible Space necessary for effective fire protection in newly constructed and/or remodeled homes within the Department’s Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones (VHFHSZ). Fuel modification reduces the radiant and convective heat, and provides valuable defensible space for firefighters to make an effective stand against an approaching fire front. Fuel modification zones are strategically placed as a buffer to open space, or areas of natural vegetation and generally would occur surrounding the perimeter of a subdivision, commercial development, or isolated development of a single-family dwelling.
Go to THE FUEL MODIFICATION PLAN – for more information.
State, County and Community Fire Prevention Planning
• 2013 County of Los Angeles Strategic Fire Plan
• Santa Monica Mountains Community Wildfire Protection Plan
• Fire Hazard Severity Zones (FHSZ)
While all of California is subject to some degree of fire hazard, there are specific features that make some areas more hazardous. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) is required by law to map areas of significant fire hazards based on fuels, terrain, weather, and other relevant factors. These zones, referred to as Fire Hazard Severity Zones (FHSZ), influence how people construct buildings and protect property to reduce risk associated with wildland fires. The maps were last updated in the mid-1980s and early 1990s.
To see if a parcel is within the FHSZ please visit the LACounty GIS Viewer
1. Go to “Map Layers” on the left side of the screen and click on the down arrow for “Map Theme”
2. Look and select “Hazards”
3. Click on the Plus symbol (+) and expand the “Hazards” menu
4. Look for “Fire Hazards” and click on the Plus symbol (+) and expand the “Fire Hazards” menu
5. Select “Fire Hazard Severity Zones” and the FHSZs will appear on the map
6. If you would like to see the FRA, SRA and LRA, select “Fire Hazard Responsibility Areas”
Vegetation Management Program
As the population of Los Angeles County increases, further expansion of residential areas into the Wildland-Urban interface is inevitable. Panoramic views, wildlife, fresh air, and solitude are just a few of the reasons that tempt people to locate in the brush areas of Los Angeles County. The rewards may be numerous, but the increased risk of wildland fires, flooding, and erosion poses a serious threat to life and property.
The County of Los Angeles Fire Department created the Vegetation Management Program in 1979 to develop strategies for responding to the growing fire hazard problem. These include:
- An ongoing effort to analyze the history and effects of wildland fires in Los Angeles County.
- Development of Fuel management projects with stakeholders, including cities, community groups, and other agencies; Experimentation with different methods of reducing or removing fuels in fire prone areas as well as the evaluation of the environmental impacts and effects of these practices. Thousands of homes have been lost in wildland fires. Many of these were lost due to the vegetation around them. Wildland fire behavior is strongly influenced by vegetation (fuel) type, fuel moisture, the arrangement and continuity of fuels, slope, aspect, and weather.
- Vegetation can be managed and modified, but as long as people choose to live in wildland areas, the threat of major catastrophes exist. Vegetation management, as it relates to wildland fire, refers to the total or partial removal of high fire hazard grasses, shrubs, or trees. In addition to fire hazard reduction, vegetation management has other benefits. These include increased water yields, improved habitat for wildlife, reduction of invasive exotic plant species, and open access for recreational purposes. Vegetation Management in the Wildland-Urban Interface of Los Angeles County.
Los Angeles County encompasses a land area of 4,000 square miles. 47% of this area is mountainous, while the remainder consists of alluvial valleys, coastal plains, and high desert. The mountains ranges within the County run from east to west. The main canyon drainages flow north and south. This natural topography has created airflow patterns linking the desert area with the Pacific Ocean. During periods of high meteorological pressure zones over the deserts, hot, dry, northerly winds known as Santa Anas follow these paths. The high frequency of fires in these areas has earned them the name fire corridors. Prominent fire corridors in Los Angeles County include Malibu, Arroyo Seco, and San Gabriel Canyons.
WHAT IS CHAPARRAL?
The vegetative ecosystem present on most of the watersheds in Los Angeles County is chaparral. The term applies to the shrubby vegetation seen on both coastal and inland hillsides. Chaparral can be separated into two types; soft chaparral (usually called coastal sage scrub) and the taller hard chaparral. Chaparral is dominated by evergreen and drought deciduous shrubs 1 to 15 feet tall. Most of these plants are recognized by their tough, leathery leaves that reduce water loss in the dry climate. Many chaparral plant species contain volatile oils which produce a strong odor and increase their flammability. Common examples include various species of Ceanothus, Manzanita, Sage, Sumac, Toyon, and Chamise. Chaparral ecosystems are very efficient at controlling erosion and protecting watersheds. The deep root systems of these plants help to stabilize slopes and allow them to thrive in the dry Mediterranean climate of Southern California. Chaparral plant communities depend upon fire as an integral part of their life cycle, and periodic burning is essential in order for these communities to rejuvenate. As unburned plants grow older, the amount of dead material increases dramatically. By age 50 as much as 50% of an individual plant may be dead. Where chaparral plants are uniformly old, and cover a broad area, fires tend to be large and devastating.
METHODS OF FUEL MANAGEMENT
There are 5 methods currently being used by the County of Los Angeles Fire Department to manage over-aged chaparral stands:
The confined application of fire to a preselected area of land in order to minimize the amount of fuel in the area. Prescribed fires are carried out only under specific weather and fuel conditions, and is used to mimic nature’s own process of regeneration.
The reduction of plant volume using grazing or browsing animals, such as goats, to hold growth back and maintain low fuel volume.
Mechanical Brush Removal
The use of mechanical equipment to reduce vegetation in an area. Equipment consists mainly of a bulldozer, in combination with a “brush crusher”, a brushrake, disk or anchor chain, which crushes or removes the vegetation.
The use of manual labor to remove brush with an assortment of tools including the Pulaski, hand axe, Grubbing hoe, chain saw, handsaw and others to modify vegetation arrangement. This is the most common method used by property owners to meet Fire Code requirements.
The application of growth inhibitors, defoliators or killers to reduce highly flammable herbaceous or poisonous plants such as annual grasses or poison oak.
PROS & CONS
Ecologically sound: fire is a natural part of the chaparral ecosystem.
Can be carried out day or night.
Increases forage and browse.
Eliminates need for debris removal.
Temporary reduction in the scenic quality.
May cause changes in the physical characteristics of the soil.
Temporary smoke emissions.
More cost effective than hand clearing.
Requires that debris be chipped or burned.
Causes soil disturbance, increased sedimentation, erosion.
May leave physical scars on the land.
Unsuitable for critical hazard slope gradients.
Cannot be used on rocky ground.
Debris removal is more difficult when mixed with soil.
Can be used selectively to treat small areas.
Can be applied on rough and rocky terrain.
Used to prepare vegetation for burning and maintaining low-density brush stands.
Can be inexpensive to apply.
Legal and/or political restrictions.
Can cause offsite damage due to drift.
Requires close supervision.
Effects may be short-lived.
Not useful for the initial clearance of native vegetation.
Requires removal of debris.
Can be weather dependent.
Not feasible for large areas
Goats are efficient converters of woody plants.
Goats will readily eat regrowth up to 5 years old.
Eliminates need for debris removal.
Can be done on rocky, steep, slopes.
Sheep and cattle do not efficient convert woody plants.
Cost is difficult to establish and depends upon availability of animals, cooperation, and product marketability.
Requires fencing or herding to properly control the amount of vegetation removed.
Minimum disturbance of site.
Desirable for clearing around or through special interest areas such as archaeological or historical sites, areas containing distinctive plants, or where visual effects are critical.
Appropriate for thinning or species selection.
Preserves riparian zones.
High manpower requirements.
Requires consistent follow up after initial clearing to get brush under control.
Requires that debris are chipped, burned and removed.
TOOLS OF THE TRADE
There are many data gathering techniques that provide vegetation managers with information necessary to carry out their programs. The data can help identify project areas and predict the condition of the chaparral as well as anticipate fire behavior.
Live fuel moisture plant samples are taken at regular intervals and weighed to determine the moisture content in Chaparral. It is a major determinant in how the brush will burn. These measurements, when used in conjunction with other data, can be used to appraise fire hazards and predict fire behavior for use in fire control, fire prevention, and prescribed fire activities.
Proper weather conditions are critical for prescribed burns. Temperature, humidity, and wind must constantly be monitored in order to maintain a safe operation.
Fire Planning -Geographic Information Systems
The County of Los Angeles Fire Plan Unit is responsible for implementing the California Fire Plan, a statewide framework for minimizing costs and losses from wildland fires. The Fire Plan Unit utilizes a Geographic Information System (GIS) platform to identify high hazard\high value areas and communities at risk in the wildland-urban interface.
The identification of these fire hazard\risk areas is achieved by assessing and validating the fire environment components (Fuels, Weather, Topography, and Assets at Risk) in Los Angeles County. Areas identified through the Fire Plan process as Communities at Risk (CAR) and\or “Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones” (VHFHSZ), are targeted for focused Pre-Fire Management projects by the Department’s Vegetation Management Program. Pilot Weather Balloons and Smoke Management The release and tracking of weather balloons to measure wind speed and direction allows managers to predict where smoke from a prescribed fire or chemicals will drift. Methods of treatment can then be carried out under conditions which keep these elements away from structures, roads and developed areas.
Differences in wind patterns at ground level and aloft may predict possible changes in fire behavior.
The use of aerial photographs and infrared imagery enables managers to recognize areas of top priority for vegetative fuel management as well as map burns for future references.
Natural Occurrences Affecting Chaparral
The health of the chaparral communities can vary. Drought, frost and abnormally high rainfall can cause vegetation die back. Other possible causes for dieback range from fungus infections to air pollution side effects. Research and Post Burn Evaluations Comparison of pre- and post-treatment evaluations are conducted to determine the effects of vegetation management treatments. Vegetation condition, erosion, effects on wildlife and adverse environmental factors are a few of the subjects being studied. Close monitoring and record keeping of effects allows Fire Department managers to continually improve vegetation management techniques.
AGREEMENTS WITH OTHER AGENCIES BILL 1704
State of California Senate Bill No. 1704 sets forth the guidelines for prescribed burning in California. This Bill grants the Los Angeles County Fire Department the authority to burn brush covered lands in order to reduce hazardous wildfire conditions. A private landowner may have up to 90% of the costs incurred for prescribed burning covered by the Vegetation Management Program if their primary objectives include the following: conversion of brush-covered areas into grazing land, fire prevention an protection, watershed protection and conservation, or range and forage improvement. If all of the terms of the burning permit are followed and the fire escapes, fire suppression costs will be covered under a third party liability policy of insurance.
COORDINATED RESOURCE MANAGEMENT AGREEMENT
This agreement allows the Fire Department to act as the lead in cooperation with other governmental agencies in projects concerning natural resources. On prescribed burns where several agencies share an interest, it plays an especially important role.
• Vegetation Management Projects (coming soon)
• Goat Contractors (coming soon)