Crews at work clearing brush in La Jolla
BY DAVE SCHWAB
Fire officials say it shouldn’t come as a surprise to La Jollans that brush management is underway in their area: It’s the law.
“It’s required that you have to have 100 feet of defensible space (around structures) citywide,” said Eddie Villavicencio, deputy fire marshal for San Diego Fire-Rescue Department. “And it’s our responsibility for doing inspections.”
He noted that the fire department is just completing door-to-door inspections of residences in Area 6, which includes La Jolla, to see if properties are in compliance with brushing regulations.
San Diego Fire-Rescue and the city’s Park and Rec Department’s Open Space Division have overlapping jurisdiction for brush management — also described as “vegetation thinning.”
There are about 40 acres in La Jolla and Clairemont where the park crews or their contractors started brush management work Oct. 15. It is expected to last until the end of November.
“It’s actually ahead of schedule — they weren’t supposed to start until early November,” said Chris Zirkle, deputy director of Park and Rec’s Open Space Division. “It’s handwork, using engine-powered chain saws, removing 50 percent of the native chaparral and coastal sage scrub, then pruning the remainder of the vegetation, a lot of which is near canyons. The idea is to create defensible space, give firefighters a place to work.”
Villavicencio noted the fire department has more than 46,000 individual parcels to inspect across the city — wherever structures on private or public residences abut high fire risk “wildland-urban interface” areas. The parks staff is responsible for conducting the work on city-owned open space adjacent to privately owned lots with structures built before the city’s first brush management regulations in were approved in 1989.
Joe LaCava, president of La Jolla Community Planning Association, a city-sanctioned advisory group for land use, said he’s pleased the city has the resources to do brush management inspections. But he doubts most people in La Jolla are aware of the 100-foot defensible space requirement for brush management.
“Most people have lived in older homes before the idea that wildland interface was an important issue,” he said. “Before the last two big fires most people living in urban areas thought they were safe. Now they realize just how vulnerable their open space areas really were to flying embers and that they had not been managed or brushed properly.”
The two major wildfire events that devastated San Diego County in the 2000s have brought the issue of brush management to the forefront, said Jerry Mitchell, who founded the Scripps Ranch Fire Safe Council after the Cedar Fire in October 2003. It was not until two years after that fire event, noted Mitchell, that codes related to brush management were amended to include discussion of trees.
With brush management, he said, if you don’t do it for long periods of time “it’s horrendous to clean out and very expensive, but if you maintain it every year or two you only need weed whippers instead of chain saws.”
To find out more about brush management, go to www.sandiego.gov/park-and-recreation/parks/brush.shtml
WATCH: San Diego City Parks and Open Space Department video, “Brush Management: Doing It Right”
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