Some county residents will see flames licking the ridges of hills next week but should not be alarmed, say Ventura County Fire Department officials.
The Fire Department has scheduled a controlled burn of about 1,100 acres of dense chaparral in Peppertree Canyon, just north of Foothill Road and between Ventura and Santa Paula, said spokesman Dan Spykerman. The fire will be visible from Santa Paula, East Ventura and Saticoy.
Last December a controlled burn of 700 acres above Hall Canyon aroused anger among many Ventura residents, who said more effort should have been made to inform the public about it.
Bill Wright, vegetation officer for the Fire Department, said he answered about 25 emotional calls during last year's fire.
The Fire Department informed local newspapers of the burn last year, "but it didn't seem to stir any interest before the fire," Spykerman said.
For the upcoming burn, the Fire Department not only notified the press, but sent out flyers to about 70 homeowners who will be closest to the flames and invited them to a burn briefing and slide show this week.
"It's safe, but very spectacular-looking," he said. "As a firefighter, it's just an impressive picture, but if you don't know anything about it, it's scary."
The burn is tentatively set for Monday, but fire officials will reschedule it if the wind, temperature and moisture conditions are not favorable, Spykerman said.
The main purpose of controlled burns is to reduce the hazard of wildfire in areas that have not burned for a long time, fire officials said. The last fire in Peppertree Canyon was in 1939.
"When the chaparral gets large, it gets dead wood underneath, and the fire will burn so hot it will sterilize the ground and you won't get the growth back," Spykerman said. "The longer it's been since a burn, the hotter it will be, and the harder it will be to contain."
Firefighters have bulldozed and hand-cleared a swath 3 to 10 feet wide around the targeted area to contain the flames. The controlled fire will start at the top of the hill and will work down along the perimeter, widening the firebreak. By the time the flames are at their most spectacular, when the densest area near the center is burned off, there will be a wide margin of burned and cleared area around it.
Spykerman said about 20 firefighters and at least one engine will be at the burn site. Wright said another burn is planned near the end of the year in East Hall Canyon, above Ventura High School.
Wildlife and grazing stock can feed better once the undergrowth is cleared, and the water supply will also be improved because there is less vegetation drawing on the aquifer, Wright said.