Fire Stories

Fire stories from the national parks highlight events, incidents, and the like, associated with fire and fuels management, as well as fire education, technology, partnerships, and more. Stories highlight work related to Department of the Interior initiatives as well as local and regional initiatives.

A large plume of smoke towers over the suburban skyline.

Springs fire burning in the Wildland Urban Interface of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. NPS photo.

No Houses Destroyed: Springs Fire Burns 24,000 Acres in the Southern California Wildland Urban Interface

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, California


Cohesive Strategy—Response to Wildfire*

On May 2, 2013, the Springs fire started during conditions which Southern California does not usually experience until late summer or fall. The three factors that influence how a fire will burn across the landscape were in perfect alignment during the early morning hours of May 2. The weather was warm and dry with offshore Santa Ana winds gusting at 30-40 mph. The topography was very steep and the point of origin was at the base of a 70% slope. Continuous fuels upslope had live fuel moisture levels in the range usually not seen until late July. All of these conditions resulted in extreme fire behavior with long range spotting. It is important to note that the location where the Springs Fire started, off of the Southbound 101 Freeway between Camarillo and Newbury Park, has seen numerous fire starts over the years. The previous fire starts in this location would generally burn to the top of the slope and quickly be suppressed with aircraft and ground resources at the ridge top. However, the conditions resulted in a fast moving, intense wildland urban interface fire.

Burned slope near houses.

Springs fire burns into defensible space, NPS photo.

Cooperating agencies coming together and working side by side during extreme fire conditions is vital to Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and this was the case during the Springs fire. Local, state and federal agencies worked together to suppress one of the largest wildfires recorded in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Several important contributing factors lead to the success of no homes being destroyed during such an extreme fire event. Effective defensible space around structures, the “Ready, Set, Go” program, and the successful cooperation and communication between different agencies resulted in aggressive firefighting while providing for public and firefighter safety.

Effective defensible space and newer building construction in the threatened communities was essential for firefighters as they provided structure protection for approximately 4,500 homes during the incident. Also the “Ready, Set, Go” program in place by both Ventura County and Los Angeles County Fire Departments and strongly supported by the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, proved to be very instrumental in the overall successful outcome.

Parked fire engines and emergency vehicles.

Multi-agency resources at the Springs fire incident command post. NPS / Fauzia Massey.

The challenges of communications during a fast moving and dynamic incident such as the Springs fire can be overwhelming. Prior to fire season, cooperator meetings as well as the professional relationships built over time between local, state and federal agencies created the trust that paved the way for safe and efficient use of resources.

Although the 2013 Springs fire burned approximately 24,000 acres, largely public open space, the successful outcome of no homes being destroyed is a testament to the solid working relationships between cooperating agencies in this complex environment.

Contact: Mike Wilson, Fire Communication and Education Specialist

Email: mike_b_wilson@nps.gov

Phone: (805)370-2364

*This story supports the Department of the Interior initiatives.