South Pas Fire Chief: Let Brush Blaze Be Warning

A brush fire erupted in nearby Eagle Rock and Glendale on Sunday, charring some 30 acres and forcing about 100 homes to be temporarily evacuated. Firefighters used choppers (inset) to battle the blaze. Photos by Henk Friezer

As if anybody really needed a reminder that wildfires are a constant danger in California, a very smoky warning popped up on South Pasadena’s own doorstep over the weekend in the form of a brush blaze that gobbled up some 30 acres of dry vegetation in Eagle Rock and Glendale.

No structures were damaged, but homes were briefly threatened and about 100 households evacuated in the blaze, which broke out around 4 p.m. on Sunday and shut down connectors between the 134 and 2 freeways. The blaze was declared 100 percent contained on Tuesday.

If it was a close call, it also was an opportunity to reiterate certain fire-safety protocols for residents throughout the region, said South Pasadena Fire Chief Paul Riddle.

“There really isn’t any ‘fire season’ anymore — it’s year-round,’’ Riddle told the Review.

“This year, especially with the rains we had over the winter, that’s a double-edged sword — although we needed the rainfall, it produced a lot of growth. So we have excess growth, and managing that excess fuel this time of year gets even more critical as we get close to … the Santa Ana conditions.’’

Those conditions typically kick in in late September and October, with offshore winds combining with high heat and low humidity to form a potentially dangerous synergy.

“That fire over the weekend, the conditions were warm, but we didn’t really have excess winds, and they were able to get air support and get on that fire pretty quick and keep it to 30 acres,’’ Riddle said.

Riddle saw the event as a good opportunity to remind South Pas citizens about all manner of safety precautions the city takes — and that residents can take, too.

“We tell our citizens in South Pas, we work very proactively with them in our hill area, to make sure their properties are free from hazardous vegetation year-round,’’ he said. “We put notices out in May and then we do our inspections of the privately owned improved lots — (the ones) that have homes on them.

“And then the vacant lots, we have a contract with L.A. County where they will facilitate the removal of the hazardous vegetation and then place that bill on the land owners’ tax assessment bill. That’s an opt-in, but most people do take advantage of that, because it’s pretty cost-effective.

“The defensible space is the key here,’’ he went on — adding that the fire code allows the city to enforce, in non-high-hazard areas, a 30-foot perimeter around structures, in which dead vegetation must be removed.

“And then in the hill area, we go to 100 feet from all structures,’’ Riddle said. “And in South Pas, where we’ve identified it as extremely hazardous, so we can go 200 feet from the property lines.’’

Riddle said about a quarter of the city ¸— specifically, the southwest quadrant, south of Monterey and west of Meridian – is considered “a high hazard brush-fire area.”

In his 28 years with the SPFD, Riddle said, “we’ve come close’’ to major wild fires impacting the city, but none have.

“We’ve had fires in the hill area, we’ve had fires on the back side in L.A. City that have come up in South Pas, but again, knock on wood, the conditions were such that we were able to get on the fire pretty quickly and knock it down,” he said.

South Pas, he added, has “a very robust” cooperation system with neighboring agencies, “so that greatly enhances our ability to get on these fires pretty quick, and that includes air support from L.A. City right away.”

South Pasadena is part of what’s called “Unified Response,” which includes fire departments from 12 other nearby agencies — Burbank, Pasadena, Gledale, Monrovia, Arcadia,  San Marino, Alhambra, Monterey Park, San Gabriel, Burbank Airport, Vernon and Sierra Madre, all of which are dispatched through the Verdugo Dispatch Center.

“So basically, those 13 cities are borderless,’’ Riddle said. “We’re automatically dispatched and moved up into fires as needed.’’

Sunday, he said, Glendale firefighters were dispatched to the brush blaze, and San Marino units were sent to cover a Glendale fire station, while South Pas picked up coverage for San Marino – though no incidents were reported during that period.

Another thing Riddle stressed: It’s good for every family to have a plan in case evacuations are ever needed. And keep a bag of basic supplies in your car.

“Talk about the plans with kids as a family, know your escape routes,’’ he said. “Not just from your structure, but know your escape routes in terms of how you’re going to drive out of an area that’s affected.’’

Riddle also encouraged residents to sign up on the city’s website – – for the “Stay Connected” program, which sends notifications to people on their preferred means of communication, usually a cell phone, in the event of evacuation orders.

You can find the sign-up under the “Residents” tab, and then the “Stay Connected During Emergencies” subhead.

The city also now has the ability to send out our its wireless emergency alerts — “kind of like an Amber Alert’’ — Riddle said.