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Preparing for the worst

Planning future fire protection in the SCV

Posted: October 14, 2008 9:50 p.m.
Updated: December 16, 2008 5:00 a.m.

The Signal's "The Big Picture" series takes a look at growth in the Santa Clarita Valley.

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Eighth story in "The Big Picture," The Signal's series on plans for growth in the Santa Clarita Valley. Today we look at projected growth of fire protection services. Click here for the rest of the stories.

Luke Claus will never forget the 2007 wildfires.

It's his job to remember and it's his job to plan for the next time fire sweeps through Santa Clarita Valley.

Claus is the assistant fire chief for the Los Angeles County Fire Department Battalion 6. Fire isn't the only battle Claus encounters at work.

Planning takes up much of his time, he said. If population projections are true, and SCV swells to more than 400,000 residents, County fire is prepared to keep the community safe, Claus said.

L.A. County Fire doesn't plan the size of its firefighting force based on population. Response times are the metric, Claus said.

"Response times have remained relatively flat," he said.

County fire proactively builds stations as Santa Clarita grows and sprawls out into the hills that crown the SCV, Claus said.

"In urbanized areas in the city, response times are about five minutes," Claus said. "As we go out in Castaic, Val Verde and the far reaches of our service area the response time increases."

County fire isn't waiting until response times get out of hand to increase personnel or fire stations.

Fire station 108 opens Nov. 1 and more stations are in the works.

"If the Newhall Ranch development goes in, there are three fire stations that get built in conjunction," he said.

Population growth doesn't just change the number of personnel and stations, Claus said. The types of calls for service change as the population and density changes.

"Some of our fire stations fight a mix of wildland and urban fires," He said. "We will begin to switch those stations' focus to urban firefighting as we become more densely populated."

The 2007 wildfires gobbled homes along the urban forest boundary.

As the valley's population continues to grow, more homes will be in the line of fire, Claus said. Updated building codes address the issues facing homes at the forest edge, he said.

"It's not all about a fire station that puts us really ahead of other cities," Claus said. "It's because we have recent growth and the city has been forward thinking in building codes."

Homes without shake shingles; spark-resistant vents; green belts around developments; and defensible space reduce the chance homes near the forest edge will burn during a wildfire, Claus said.

That doesn't mean people can stay in their homes when a wildfire is burning, Claus warns.

"When a fire is bearing down on your home it isn't going to burn gently around you. You'll face flames up to 150 feet in height and may not be able to escape," Claus said.

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