Letter to the Community: Fire Chief Niko King

Laguna Beach Fire Chief Niko King. Photo/City of Laguna Beach

Dear Laguna Beach community,

On the heels of an eight-year drought, this winter’s relentless, record-breaking storms seem like an unequivocally good thing. Over the past years, fire departments have grown accustomed to dealing with dry winters and preparing for the fire season with minimal precipitation and vegetation growth.

But this year will be different. Now that we’ve had the rain we needed, the vegetation throughout our community is growing faster and more densely than we’ve seen in several years. While many of our native plants can be more adapted to fire, invasive grasses and invasive mustards dry out and turn into light, flashy fuels that can potentially increase fire danger to our community in the coming months.

For decades, your Laguna Beach Fire Department has had fuel modification programs in place to protect the community from wildfires. Part of what makes our fuel modification program – and our community – so special is the habitat surrounding Laguna Beach. We’re surrounded by some of the last coastal sage scrub habitats in the world, endangered plants like big-leaved crownbeard, wild bobcats, and threatened species like cactus wren and gnatcatcher. Because of this, we developed a unique fuel modification program that strikes the balance between fire safety and habitat protection.

Our program focuses on creating a wildfire-resistant landscape by thinning vegetation and removing particularly fire-prone dead brush and invasive species. This work can slow the speed at which a wildfire grows, giving us valuable time to evacuate and bring in resources to protect our homes and property. We have 27 different fuel modification zones in the City, and we work with contracted partners to make sure the work is done efficiently, effectively, and sustainably. The zones are located adjacent to neighborhoods and are intended to slow the progression of an encroaching wildfire. We assess, permit, and modify each zone to make sure we’re increasing life safety and preserving property and our natural environment.

Our 2023 fuel modification program has been well underway for a couple of months now. Work will continue to thin vegetation growth in fuel modification zones to ensure our community is as prepared as possible before the hot, dry summer months, accompanied by the late fall wind events.

You can help by keeping an eye out for fire hazards in the community and prepare your own home to be fire safe:

  • Clean roofs and gutters of dead leaves, debris and pine needles that could catch embers.
  • Replace or repair any loose or missing shingles or roof tiles to prevent ember penetration.
  • Reduce embers that could pass through vents in the eaves by installing 1/8-inch metal mesh screening.
  • Clean debris from exterior attic vents and install 1/8-inch metal mesh screening to reduce embers.
  • Repair or replace damaged or loose window screens and any broken windows.
  • Screen or box‐in areas below patios and decks with wire mesh to prevent debris and combustible materials from accumulating.
  • Move any flammable material away from wall exteriors – mulch, flammable plants, leaves and needles, firewood piles ‐ anything that can burn.
  • Remove anything stored underneath decks and porches.

The fire department also provides a free wildfire consultation where our experienced staff will come to your home and offer advice about how you can prepare your property and landscape to best withstand a wildfire. More information can be found at lagunabeachcity.net/government/departments/fire or by calling (949) 497-0700 to learn more.

We encourage our community to stay informed about the weather, especially on those days when the fire hazard level increases. Know how to get out of your home and stay connected to citywide messaging so you know when to evacuate and what direction to travel. Make sure you subscribe to our City Nixle Alerts by texting 92651 to 888-777. Specific messaging can also be broadcast through the City’s Emergency Warning System.

By working together, we can continue to enjoy our special town and stay fire safe at the same time.

In Community Spirit,

Niko King, Laguna Beach Fire Chief

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