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Proper brush clearance on improved property and vacant land can help keep a small fire from becoming a devastating one. Scott Steepleton/Surfside News
Scott Steepleton, Editor
7:01 am PDT May 24, 2021

If anyone in Malibu needed a reminder of the importance of clearing flammable brush from near their home, authorities say it’s Palisades Fire.

Allegedly started by a homeless man May 14 and leading to the evacuation of portions of Topanga Canyon, the 1,100-acre fire gave residents of Malibu almost a week of anxiety over whether flames would come their way. (A flare-up May 18 didn’t help matters.)

Proper brush clearance can help keep a brush fire from growing into a wildfire that threatens lives and homes.

The deadline for brush clearing in Malibu is a week away.

“The Palisades Fire … and the numerous small fires in Malibu this year are serious reminders that our next disastrous wildfire is always around the corner,” said Mayor Paul Grisanti. “To those residents who have already completed their brush clearance before the June 1 deadline, I thank you. If you have not yet completed your brush clearance, please act now to protect your home, your neighborhood and your community.”

June 1 marks the day engine companies from the Los Angeles County Fire Department kick off brush clearance inspections in Malibu and elsewhere, making it important for property owners out of compliance to do the work as soon as possible.

It all comes down to defensible space, brush-free areas that firefighters need to protect life, property and the environment — and to protect themselves.

For property owners who have yet to do brush clearing, the city offers free “wildfire home hardening assessments” through Fire Safety Liaison Chris Brossard, who can point out vulnerabilities and offer “a no-obligation checklist of often simple and inexpensive steps that can prevent embers from igniting a home during a wildfire,” according to an announcement from the city.

Launched in 2019 in the wake of the Woolsey Fire, the program has resulted in more than 200 assessments. It’s a joint effort between county fire, the County of Los Angeles Department of Agricultural Commissioner Weights and Measures, Weed Hazard and Pest Abatement Bureau that can declare any property a public nuisance and, when necessary, require the clearance of hazardous vegetation.

Fines and fees for non-compliance can top $1,100.

The city of Malibu recommends the following to ensure proper brush clearance:

  • Cutting and removing all dead or dying vegetation and grass.

  • Thinning and removing high-risk plants (laurel sumac, chamise, ceanothus, sage, sage brush, buckwheat and California juniper).

  • Removing the lower third of large shrubs and all dead wood. 

  • Spacing out large native shrubs — 15 feet between the edges of their canopies.

  • Removing dead or dry leaves and pine needles from yard, roof and rain gutters.

  • Trimming trees regularly to keep branches at least 10 feet from other trees and 5-6 feet off the ground. 

  • Removing dead branches hanging over the roof and keeping branches 10 feet away from the chimney.

Another tip: Keep the first five feet around the exterior of the house as clean as possible. This includes not storing combustible materials, maintaining any vegetation and avoiding mulch or bark. The better choices, officials say, are dirt, gravel, hardscape or decomposed granite.

For more on brush clearance and to get a brush clearance inspection, click here.

For questions or concerns related to the Brush Clearance Program, contact your local fire station here.

For information on Home Ignition Zone Assessments or general questions you can contact the fire safety liaison at 310-456-2489, ext. 387 or firesafety@malibucity.org.