Preparation for Southern California Fire Season Demonstrates Complexities and Importance of Cooperation

A helicopter demonstrates a water drop.
Helicopter water drop demonstration.

NPS / Mike Wilson

On June 12, 2012, the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area hosted the “opening of fire season” media event at Rancho Sierra Vista in Newbury Park. Resources from Ventura County Fire Department, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, Los Padres National Forest, Cal Fire, and Oxnard City Fire Department came together to demonstrate what it takes to successfully prepare and defend a structure from wildfire in the wildland urban interface.

A group of press members and NPS employees stand in an open parking lot during a press conference.
Opening of fire season press conference at Santa Monica Mountains.

NPS / Mike Wilson

Firefighters from Ventura County Fire Department and the National Park Service used mowers and weed whackers to remove fine dead fuels from around park structures. They also removed leaves and pine needles from rain gutters and roofs. These areas are extremely susceptible to ignition from embers coming from a wildland fire. The best chance for structure survivability requires a two-pronged approach: creating defensible space and hardening the structure itself. Defensible space provides an area in which radiant heat cannot ignite a home and also a safe area for firefighters to work. Hardening the structure reduces the possibility of embers igniting material on or penetrating the structure through vents and openings.

A firefighter removes pine needles and dead leaves from a gutter along a roof.
Removing pine needles is one way to prevent embers from igniting rooftops.

NPS / Fauzia Massey

The resources involved in the event were an example of some of those that may respond to a wildfire in the Santa Monica Mountains. Agency officials stressed the importance of good communications between cooperating resources when engaging in suppression efforts, especially during times of fast-moving Santa Ana wind-driven fires that occur in the late summer and fall.

Whether it is hand crews and fire engines on the ground or air resources overhead, all of these firefighting tools are used in the Santa Monica Mountains and must be coordinated precisely to protect the many high values at risk in this wildland urban interface. Staff with one of these firefighting resources, a water-dropping helicopter from Ventura County Fire Department, was on-site and demonstrated how they can drop up to 350 gallons of water near structures by coordinating with fire crews on the ground.

Engine 73 crew in front of a wildland fire engine.
Santa Monica Mountains engine 73 Crew.

NPS / Mike Wilson

The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area has its Type 3 fire engine staffed and ready to respond to fires locally and across the region.

Contact: Mike Wilson, fire communication and education specialist
Email: e-mail us
Phone: (805) 370-2364