Combating Brush and Grass Fire Hazards in Arid Districts

Combating Brush and Grass Fire Hazards in Arid Districts

How Mountain and Desert Forest and Brush Fires Are Handled in California — Fires in the National Forests

Volunteer Firemen Fighting a Typical Brush Fire with Wet Brooms, Rakes and Other Implements

Forest and brush fires are pretty much the same in all localities. They are generally the result of either carelessness or maliciousness on the part of some individual or individuals, and are hard to control, especially on account of the lack of water and of facilities for fighting the blaze. The following paper gives some excellent suggestions as to how this situation is handled in California:

THE causes of mountain fires are many and nearly every year there are new hazards showing up. In eighteen national forests of California out of a total of twelve hundred and sixty-six fires, eight hundred and sixty-three were man-caused in 1930. While in 1929, out of twelve hundred and seventy-four fires, nine hundred and nineteen were man-caused, making a little higher percentage of man-caused fires in 1929 than in 1930. These figures really do not show the condition in Southern California, as in the four Southern forests (Santa Barbara, Angeles, San Bernardino and Cleveland) out of one hundred and twenty-two fires, one hundred and two were man-caused.

This average is again out when the state and county fires are figured in, as the Federal protected areas are usually higher and have more lightning fires. San Diego County, in 1930, had two hundred and eight fires with one hundred and ninety-four being mancaused, made up as follows: Brush burning, 58; smokers, 57; incendiary, 42; gas engine exhausts, 6; high tension wires, 4; hot ashes (thrown in grass), 3; bee smokers, 3; camp fires. 2; sparks from chimneys, 2; airplanes, 2; fire works, 2; children with matches, 2; spontaneous combustion, 2; (Feed Storage), railroads, 1; oil lamp, 1; (building), blasting, 1; sparks from forge, 1; candle at grave, 1; welding, 1; carbide, 1; and one that apparently started from a defective piece of glass magnifying; the other eight reported fires being not located.

Major Causes of Fires

The major causes in 1930 run about the same as in past years. In 1927 out of one hundred and twentyone fires, there were thirty-five from smokers, twentyfour from brush burning, and six incendiary. In 1928, out of two hundred and twenty-eight fires, there were fifty-two from brush burning, thirty from smokers and twenty-nine incendiary. In 1929 out of one hundred and eleven fires to September 1, there were thirty-four from brush burning, twenty-eight incendiary and twenty-four smokers fires. In 1927 if the cause was not definitely known, it was put down as unknown. Since then, however, the most probable cause has been entered on the Fire Report, so that there is quite a chance of some of the fires charged to hunters being caused by carbon from exhausts.

Fireworks and Cigarette Fires

At least ninety per cent of the man-caused fires are preventable, if we can find out how. It is my personal belief tha_____ it can be done only by educating the general public as to the values of the brush and timber cover from the angles of water conservation, prevention of erosion and recreational values.

In the past years there have been a great number of fires caused by fireworks, while the last two years there have been very few in the mountain areas. There has been in effect a state law which prohibits anyone from shooting fireworks in an unincorporated area without first obtaining a permit from a fire warden or ranger: however, the fact that this law was in existence did not make any great difference with the number of fires from this cause, but in 1929 and 1930, by giving constant warnings through the press and roadside signs, our fires from this cause have dropped to a minimum. The same applies to fires started from blasting. The number of roadside fires which are started from throwing lighted cigarettes, etc., from a moving vehicle along the roads should also be decreased, due to the amount of hazard reduction work that is being done by various organizations throughout the state. Most of the fires caused by smokers are due to the draft of passing cars fanning the lighted cigarette or tobacco until it ignites the grass; if the roadways can be cleared of vegetation to a sufficient width it should stop seventy-five per cent of the smoker fires.

Greatest Menace Incendiary Fires

Our greatest menace is the incendiary fire that is usually started at times when the humidity is lowest and an east wind is blowing, by persons who have a selfish motive, mostly due to the false impression that they will receive some personal gain in increased grazing land or possibly easier going while hunting. Even if both cases were true, the damage to the land itself from the agricultural standpoint and that to the entire community as regards water conservation, with the additional thousands of dollars spent annually for suppression, are great enough, that a public, realizing the values at stake, should take a hand in stopping this class of fire.

The balance of causes are mostly plain carelessness and persons not being fire minded enough to realize the consequence of allowing a fire to escape from their control.

Another hazard reduction activity of the organizations in charge of mountain fire control is the enforcement of a law requiring that all inflammable material be cleared to a distance of at least thirty feet from any structure. This is helping to stop fires from starting around cabins, as well as to give us a chance to save the property in case a fire is burning to it.

(From a paper read before the convention of the Southern California Fire Chiefs’ Club, at El Centro, Cal.)

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