It’s Last Licks for SP’s Fire Goats

South Pas Fire Chief Paul Riddle stands in the city’s Elephant Hill section on Thursday, when a herd of 110 goats was let loose in a fenced-off, 10-acre area to chew up vegetation that could be fuel for a potential wildfire. Photos by Henk Friezer

Say baa-bye to South Pasadena’s firefighting goats.

Looks like they’ve done one hill of a job.

“Those 10 acres look good, and we’ll probably call it complete (Thursday or Friday),’’ Fire Chief Paul Riddle told the Review earlier this week — referring to the horned herd that was deployed on Elephant Hill back on Sept. 26, with the mission to spend the next three to four weeks chomping on potentially flammable vegetation.

“We’re about at the point where we’ve eliminated all the hazardous, flammable vegetation and created an effective fire break,’’ Riddle added.

Originally, about 100 goats were let loose in a specially fenced-off 10-acre area along the city’s border with the City of Los Angeles. But, Riddle said, about three weeks ago another 50 goats were brought in, as monitors from the company hired by the city to supervise the critters determined that more goatpower was needed to handle the thick brush.

During the process, the monitors also directed the goats to particular areas of Elephant Hill that needed special attention, and guarded against overgrazing, which could lead to potential landslides, Riddle said.

Elephant Hill, which is mostly undeveloped, was already considered a high-fire-hazard area. But last winter’s heavy rains made the area even more susceptible to wildfires, with the rains enabling a lot of weed and vegetation growth that’s now dried out, making for prime fire fuel.

Add in Southern California’s current dry and windy conditions, and it could have made for an especially dangerous mix.

Riddle said the goats — contracted out by The Sage Environmental Group, which the city paid $20,000 — had “eliminated the fuel ladder” in much of Elephant Hill, having chewed or trampled it “down to nothing.”

The fuel ladder is basically vegetation that creates a connection from the ground to the upper parts of trees, which if ignited can quickly turn small fires into very big ones.

Riddle said that, now, if there should be a spark in the area, enough fuel has been eliminated to enable firefighters to reach the area with equipment while any blaze could still be quickly contained and extinguished.

Employing goats to head off potential wildfires is not a new strategy — many cities around the state have used it. But this marked the first time that South Pas had employed a Chew Crew.

“They’ll probably be off the hill by the end of the week,” Riddle said.