Fire Chief Recommends Goats as Cure for Canyon Fires
San Diego Fire Chief George E. Courser has recommended to his city council that a herd of some 200 goats be employed to clear undergrowth on hillsides covered by brush. His suggestion, made in all seriousness, came as a sequel to a recent five-alarm canyon fire.
—San Diego Evening Tribune photo
Chief Courser’s idea would be to keep the goats in a temporary enclosure of portable fencing covering possibly an acre and under the care of experienced goat herders. The animals would be supplied with water but no food other than that which they could graze from the hillsides. Inasmuch as a goat will eat almost anything edible, up as high as the animal can reach standing on its hind legs, there is a good possibility a herd could eliminate the danger of canyon fires. As the area is cleared of grass and small brush, the herd could be moved to another location, gradually eliminating the dangerous undergrowth in canyon areas. Chief Courser bases his idea on sound fire, economic and conservation principles. The large brush which causes the real damage does not burn too readily, but when fed by undergrowth a canyon fire spreads rapidly. The work could be done by grubbing the area by hand. However, during heavy rains serious damage might be done as a result of erosion, with consequences which might equal that done by fire.
The fire chief has suggested also that all property owners be required to clear undergrowth at least 20 feet from their homes or property lines and replace the brush with ice plant or some similar fireresistant ground cover. As a further protective measure—not related to the goats —he recommends that all shingle roofs be eliminated along the edges of canyons and the elimination of other material of a flammable nature.
Chief Courser in a memorandum to FIBE ENGINEEBINC admits that on the surface his idea of “goat fire prevention” appears ridiculous. It seems he proposed the idea several years ago but at that time no one took him seriously.
Following a five-alarm fire in University Heights Canyon last fall (the city’s first such alarm) in which one house and three garages were destroyed and 40 homes and 16 garages damaged, the chief repeated his proposal. Reports hint that it is receiving serious consideration.