Cal­trans to speed brush clear­ance near free­ways

Los Angeles Times - - California - By Steve Hy­mon

With ex­pec­ta­tions that an al­ready bad fire sea­son is about to get worse as spring melts into sum­mer, lo­cal and state of­fi­cials an­nounced Fri­day that Cal­trans would ex­pe­dite brush clear­ance along free­ways in Los An­ge­les.

City fire of­fi­cials have com­plained for years that Cal­trans needed to clear more brush, par­tic­u­larly along road­ways in the moun­tains, where fires fre­quently be­gin.

Cal­trans of­fi­cials have said their hands were tied by con­flict­ing reg­u­la­tions that re­quired them to clear brush but also to pre­serve it to avoid soil ero­sion.

Los An­ge­les is in the midst of its dri­est rain year on record, which ends June 30, and the re­gion al­ready has ex­pe­ri­enced sev­eral ma­jor fires, most re­cently in Grif­fith Park and on Santa Catalina Is­land. Fire of­fi­cials are par­tic­u­larly wor­ried about ar­eas along the 405 Free­way in the Sepul­veda Pass, Cal­i­for­nia 118 in Northridge, the Pasadena Free­way near Mount Wash­ing­ton, the 210 Free­way in Syl­mar and Sun­land and the Ven­tura and Glen­dale free­ways in Ea­gle Rock.

Assem­bly­man Mike Feuer (D-Los An­ge­les) and Coun­cil­man Jack Weiss pushed Cal­trans and the city Fire De­part­ment to work out a so­lu­tion, which they did ear­lier this month.

Un­der the deal, Cal­trans agreed to widen, to 10 feet, the buf­fers it has been cut­ting along the free­ways. Cal­trans and Fire De­part­ment of­fi­cials also said they would use ae­rial maps to tar­get ar­eas where more work was needed.

“Cars move very slowly through the Sepul­veda Pass, but flames are an­other story al­to­gether,” Weiss said at a Fri­day morn­ing news con­fer­ence at the pass. “The wild card is al­ways the wind — a lit­tle fire with a lot of wind can be­come a huge con- fla­gra­tion very quickly.”

Michael Miles, a deputy di­rec­tor of main­te­nance and op­er­a­tions for Cal­trans, said the agency is de­ploy­ing a crew of 50 work­ers to do brush clear­ance in high-pri­or­ity ar­eas this month.

Fire De­part­ment of­fi­cials are re­mind­ing home­own­ers to clear brush around their homes so that fire­fight­ers have space to de­fend struc­tures — just in case worst comes to worst.

steve.hy­mon@la­times.com

An­nie Wells Los An­ge­les Times

POWER WALK: Coun­cil­man Jack Weiss, left, Capt. Joe Sz­aba­dos of the L.A. Fire De­part­ment and Michael Miles of Cal­trans walk in an area Cal­trans main­tains by the 405 Free­way in Sher­man Oaks.

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