Brittle brush has fire department pushing prevention

August 16, 2013|By Bryce Alderton
  • Goats behind Thurston Middle School are eating brush as part of the city's fire prevention methods.
Goats behind Thurston Middle School are eating brush… (MAT LUSCHEK, Coastline…)

It's clear to most that the brush surrounding Laguna Beach is brittle, and the Laguna Beach Fire Department is doing all it can to ameliorate firestorm risk.

"You can't deny we're coming out of a drought year," Laguna Fire Chief Jeff LaTendresse said. "Fire season for us this year is early. It's already taking its toll on structures in Ventura [during the Springs Fire in May]."

Subsequent fires have charred Southern California's landscape, including the Silver fire near Banning, which burned more than 20,000 acres earlier this month, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection website.

"Preparing for a fire is a never-ending event," LaTendresse said.

In addition to workers who clear brush, the city has relied on goats. The animals that have eaten brush around Laguna for the past several years have taken on a more important role.

They roam surrounding hillsides, chomping on native chaparral around Thurston Middle School and Alta Laguna Park, which are among 14 fuel modification zones throughout the city, LaTendresse said.


The city paid $125,000 for one herd — about 200 goats — for a year, LaTendresse said. In June, the department brought in a second herd, at about $5,000 per month, he said.

A herd's size — from 75 to 250 — varies depending on the amount of brush, according to LaTendresse.

This week the goats chomped brush behind Thurston Middle School and beyond Toto Loma Lane in South Laguna. The Fire Department will decide within the next few weeks whether to keep the second herd once brush is cleared near Toto Loma Lane.

The goats will then move to an area around Top of the World Elementary School, LaTendresse said.

He said fire authorities ensure that endangered habitat is protected before moving goats to a particular area.

But the fire department needs residents to help too by making their houses more fire safe, LaTendresse said.

"Can you trim trees or remove leaves from the gutter?" LaTendresse asks.

According to a 2009 addition to the city's municipal code, Laguna Beach residents may not have weeds or any material deemed a fire hazard on their property.

Artichoke thistle, arundo, pampass grass and cape ivy have been deemed dangers to public health and safety because they can create a fire or flood hazard, the code said.

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