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AQMD's Ban on Burning

November 07, 1986

My neighbors and I in Topanga are greatly concerned about a burning ban imposed by the Air Quality Management District, which could result in catastrophic brush fires in the Santa Monica mountains.

Residents of Topanga and Malibu have been burning the brush and grass they are required each year to clear 100 feet from around their homes as a fire safety measure. This burning is done under permit issued by the Fire Department, on smogless days, early in the morning, in a well-cleared spot. Untold tons of flammable vegetation have been safely eliminated by this method with a minimum amount of smog. Without any warning, the AQMD last June clamped a ban on this controlled type of burning, claiming it is illegal.

We are now faced with the problem of what to do with the huge piles of brush, chaparral, dead tree limbs and grass. The cost of hauling to the dump in Calabasas--a 30-mile round trip from Topanga--is $150 a truckload. Each household can accumulate several truckloads annually and many would find the cost prohibitive. They would simply throw the dangerously dry brush into he nearest ravine or gully. Result: a tremendous buildup of fuel, just what is needed to feed voracious fires.

Firemen, who risk their lives to fight brush fires, want the ban rescinded. They need the help of each household to safely get rid of the deadly fuel. If instead it is allowed to accumulate, they fear the conflagration that could ravage the Santa Monica mountains. A pall of acrid smoke and smothering smog blankets a large area after a brush fire.

The AQMD policy is self-defeating because of the vast amounts of smog emitted from large, pollution-belching trucks going to and from the dump. Besides, these dump sites are rapidly filling up and new ones are hard to find. The AQMD ban only exacerbates this critical problem.

Chipping machines have been suggested as an alternative to burning. But they are too costly for the average family, dangerous to use, and are not effective on all types of vegetation.

Some top AQMD and county fire officials met recently to discuss the problem but no decision was made to cancel the ban. The AQMD is taking it "under consideration."

Meanwhile, a massive accumulation of inflammable brush could lead to the disaster we all want to avoid--wild fires that destroy lives and property and are the worst smog producers of all.

LOUISE LEUNG LARSON

Topanga

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