The plentiful rains Southern California received this winter thankfully moved the region out of a long-lasting intense drought that persisted from 2011 to 2017. Hills surrounding the Los Angeles Basin – including the peaks and valleys of Griffith Park – were once-again lush and green from January through April, a surprising and welcome sight for many. Seasonal streams flowed through the backcountry and inundated the Park’s thirsty trees and vegetation.
With the rain relief, however, comes new concerns about a potentially dangerous wildfire season this summer, following in the wake of California’s deadliest and most destructive wildfire season on record in 2018.
After all, while the rains nourished native plants, they also nourished the non-native invasive plants like black mustard which is found in fields and slopes in Griffith Park, says Senior Park Ranger Adam Dedeaux. “When the grasses cure and other plants dry up, there is going to be a lot of fuel out there,” he says adding that is why he and his fellow Rangers have been continually preparing and training for fire response and readiness – both internally and with their counterparts at Los Angeles Fire Department.
For the last three years, Dedeaux has been compiling and recording vital statistics and data about brush fires in all of Los Angeles’ City Parks. This fire data provides opportunities to examine how fires are starting, concentration and location of fires and other information that could prove important to mitigating fires in the future.
The data also demonstrates the importance of having Park Rangers well-trained in wildland firefighting as well as the continued need for proper equipment and firefighting apparatus that can service more than 16,000 acres of Los Angeles park property.
Looking at the Numbers
In 2018, Park Rangers responded to a total of 124 calls for service related to fires such as brush fires, vehicle fires, illegal burning/barbecues, trash can/rubbish fires and smoke scares. The total acreage of Los Angeles Recreation and Park Property that burned from January to December 2018 was 135. These fires ranged from approximately a quarter acre to as large as 63 acres. Dedeaux stresses that this report may not contain all the fires that occurred on RAP property, but they are the ones that Rangers – along with LAFD – have responded to.
In Griffith Park in 2018, 10 significant fires destroyed a little over 90 total acres. That’s two percent of the Park’s total acreage!
When you contrast the 2018 fire year with the previous two, there are some interesting observations: 2016 had six fire responses in Griffith Park; four were near the L.A. River. Those blazes destroyed nearly three acres. In 2017, there were 11 fire responses in the Park; again four were near the L.A. River – but the total loss was less than one acre. There were also five fires in Western Canyon in 2017.
The 2018 November blaze near Skyline Trail was particularly intense, consuming 63 acres, making it one of the largest fires in the Park since the massive Griffith Park fire of 2007. The fire was located in an area with steep canyons and narrow fire roads, forcing fire crews to hike in through difficult terrain to determine the best course of action. Eventually fire engines were able to access the area.
The Park Rangers worked with more than 127 LAFD firefighters and additional air and ground support from L.A. County Fire to extinguish the blaze that also threatened the Los Angeles Zoo. This fire was particularly powerful because it was feeding on fuel that hadn’t burned in many years.
In recent years, most Griffith Park fires seem to be concentrated in the southern and western portions of the park. “Since it’s more developed and contains major attractions, these locations (such as the Observatory area) tend to see more fires,” hypothesizes Dedeaux. He believes that many Griffith Park fires have either been started by transients or careless smokers.
Seven of the 10 fires in 2018 were in the general Observatory area (Fern Dell, Western Canyon, and Vermont Canyon), where tourism is concentrated. Having a resident-ranger with a ready brush patrol (pick-up trucks that carry 100 gallons of water) in Fern Dell has proven to be beneficial. Ranger Gary Menjuga quickly responded to a restroom fire in January 2018, keeping it from spreading to nearby mature trees until LAFD arrived in full force.
Fire Ready Rangers
The coordination between the Park Rangers and LAFD begins when there is a call about a fire. Both organizations contact each other about the location and jump into action. Many times during a fire response, red LAFD engines can be seen parked near the white and green ranger engines, vehicles that, according to Dedeaux resemble traditional wildland firefighting engines.
Overall, Park Rangers have at their disposal two engines, seven brush patrols, and two 2000-gallon water tenders that can supply water in the event there are no hydrants near the scene.
It may surprise you, but there are “over a hundred hydrants in the Park,” says Dedeaux. There are two main types of hydrants installed in the Park – one resembles the traditional yellow hydrant but another, with a red top, is a high-pressure hydrant.
Fire training and preparation is an ongoing part of the Park Rangers’ duties to ensure they’re ready for California’s year-round fire season.
Dedeaux stresses that if the public sees a fire or smoke, do not hesitate. Call 911. The operator will connect you immediately to LAFD which will contact the Rangers.
“If you see any kind of unsafe behavior with fire – like an illegal barbecue – that’s the time to call,” he says, adding that the public can also contact the Ranger Station at any time with a report.
Direct number for Park Rangers (323) 644-6661
REMEMBER: always call 911 for any emergencies. Your call could save lives, vegetation and wildlife.