The versatile “duck test” goes, “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.”
The hillside brushfire on May 24 that burned two acres below Via de las Olas in late afternoon was most likely started by a transient—if we apply the duck test.
The L.A. Fire Department is not allowed to speculate about the origins of a fire, and unless a person is arrested for the fire, the cause remains a big mystery and, who knows? Maybe it was a welding accident or spontaneous combustion or just really bad luck or somebody threw a cigarette butt 500 feet from PCH into the brush.
Someone reported a man leaving the area with a black backpack immediately after the fire was spotted. But all the LAFD can say is “It’s under investigation.”
On the Friday before, your Circling the News editor was walking down Temescal Canyon towards PCH, and a “disturbed” transient who was muttering and smoking began following me. Stepping aside, I called the Pacific Palisades Task Force on Homelessness and alerted them that the guy appeared to be going above the picnic area into the bluffs.
Additionally, over the previous few weeks, two abandoned encampments had been cleaned by the PPTFH in the posted restricted fire areas along Temescal near PCH.
Most residents have noticed an uptick in transients who appear to have mental or meth/alcohol issues. When people are moved from encampments around the City, they are offered housing. Those who do not accept are asked to move on – and they do. Many of them take the free metro to areas such as Santa Monica and Pacific Palisades.
CTN has been told that lately we have had some of the “worst of the worst” in our area: people who are too mentally ill to know they desperately need help.
CTN spoke to LAPD Officer John “Rusty” Redican after the Via de las Olas fire and he told me that he knows the exact location the fire started because he has cleared encampments at that location.
Pacific Palisades residents were fortunate that the fire department responded so quickly. Residents along the bluffs were also were lucky there was no wind, because the fire came dangerously close to their homes. It burned part of the fence that rims the canyon and is directly across the street from homes and towering eucalyptus trees.
That means that in the space of two weeks, residents have lucked out. First, the Palisades Fire that burned above the Highlands, which was also set by a transient (he was arrested, so we can say transient), didn’t spread like it would have had there been Santa Ana winds.
The Via de las Olas fire was reported immediately because people could see the smoke and flames from PCH—if it had been late at night or had there been winds … .the outcome would have been much different.
Pacific Palisades is surrounded and intersected by brush-covered canyons and hillsides, to that extent that the whole town is considered in a Very High Fire Severity Zone.
This year, instead of the normal 13.45 inches of rain (measured at the end of June), the total is only 4.26 inches—which means the mountains around us are tinder dry.
Officials ask residents to prepare for brushfires by 1) doing brush clearance, 2) getting your “to-go” bags ready and 3) if asked to evacuate, go.
Here’s a commonsense piece of advice that might make even more of a difference: Let’s keep the hillsides clear of those who might start a fire — either intentionally or unintentionally.
Sooner or later, our town’s luck will run out.