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Ventura County

Fire Loss Down for Season

Emergency: About 600 acres burned in the 2001 period, compared with 1,500 last year. No major injuries were reported.

November 15, 2001|JOSE CARDENAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Ventura County Fire Department has concluded this year's fire season without logging any major injuries or property damage.

The season officially ended Tuesday after a Pacific storm dropped up to an inch of rain in parts of the county, said Joe Luna, a county Fire Department spokesman.

"We can look at the predicted weather [which] can tell us whether we can safely close the fire season," Luna said.

The county agency followed the lead of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, which Luna said closed the state's fire season last week, pulling back on its available resources.

For the county, the end of the season--which typically runs from May 15 and closes as weather allows in November--means that response to fire calls won't be as intense.

For instance, a typical call during fire season prompts a response of five engines, hand crews, a bulldozer and a helicopter. But Luna said a typical response through spring will generally involve one or two engines that will do an initial assessment before more equipment is committed.

County officials, however, emphasized the fire agency can increase its readiness if weather conditions change.

This year county fire personnel responded to 52 wildfires, the largest a 265-acre blaze near the Westlake portion of Thousand Oaks. In all, about 600 acres were scorched in the 2001 fire season, down from 1,500 acres last year.

There were no major injuries or structures burned, which officials said is no coincidence.

Luna said the fire agency has an aggressive controlled-burn strategy that over the years has minimized damage.

Also, he said, the agency last year sent 15,000 brush-clearance notices to property owners near hillsides and open space, urging them to clear fire hazards at least 100 feet around structures. The program this year had 99.5% compliance.

The buffer zones "give us a chance to save the home," Luna said. "That has proven to be a very effective program."

Injuries this year ranged from bee stings to minor smoke inhalation and heat exhaustion, mostly to firefighters, Luna said.

The total acreage burned this year--600--was low compared with other totals in the past decade. The annual figures have ranged from 85,000 acres burned in 1993, with the Green Meadows fire near Thousand Oaks accounting for more than half that acreage, to 200 acres in 1994.

"The weather is always the critical element," Luna said.

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