When Captain Harges of Glendale’s Fire Company 23 heard a fire had broken out in Chevy Chase Canyon Friday, he feared the worst.
"I thought for sure we were going to lose the canyon."
The dry brush and high winds allowed the fire to burn in more than one direction.
"It blows over and starts another fire and it just domino effects," said Harges.
Homeowner Miriam Rafael Dalinger and her husband live in a large house perched up on a hillside. Dalinger watched as the fire rushed towards her home. She also feared the worst. But her house was spared, thanks in part to the couple's vigilant efforts at clearing the brush on their property, something they do "every week."
In fact, the law requires that homeowners clear brush around their property. Captain Harges says that to ensure residents comply, members of his department go door to door starting in May to inspect every home in Chevy Chase Canyon. The goal is to advise homeowners on what brush to clear. In some cases the fire department will even do the clearing for the homeowner for a fee "to make it as convenient as possible," says Harges.
In Glendale, as in most cities in L.A. County, where a house is determines how much brush must be legally cleared around major structures on the property, including the house, the garage and the shed. That distance could be as little as 30 feet in downtown Glendale to 150 feet for homes high up on a hillside. If residents don't clear the brush, they can incur a fine.
Harges says not all homeowners follow the rules because they don't think a fire in their neighborhood is likely. But Jon Keeley, a research scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey, said that there is no way to predict where the next fire might pop up in the region. He says that a wildfire has little do with the "age of vegetation," which would be determined by when an area last burned.
Keeley says there are examples where the same region has burned year after year. He warns that "all of Southern California ought to be on alert. We’ve had a very dry spring, so the vegetation is unusually dry for this time of year."
Fire crews wrapped up in Chevy Chase Canyon on Saturday afternoon, what Battalion Chief Gregory Fish calls the "mop-up stage." Fish is now worrying about possible mudslides.
"We gotta figure out how we’re going to take this barren land and put some seeds on it for the rains that are coming to [keep] the mud from having to come down into the homes."