Mayor Eric Garcetti announced a proposed ordinance Wednesday that would give law enforcement the authority to order homeless people out of encampments located in brush areas on high-risk fire days.
“Once the ordinance is adopted … law enforcement will be able to give direct notice to individuals living in fire danger zones that they must move,” Garcetti said. “That means that on these hot red flag days that come up during the summertime and increasingly year-round, we can now take a major step toward reducing the likelihood of encampment fires like we saw in 2017 with the Skirball Fire and last month in the Sepulveda Basin.”
The mayor made the announcement at a Van Nuys news conference designed to highlight the Los Angeles Fire Department’s newest aerial firefighting assets — a fifth AW139 helicopter that can drop up to 480 gallons of water, and an Erickson “Aircrane” the city leases annually during the fire season. Both aircraft went into service on Aug. 1.
But while highlighting the importance of the increased firefighting apparatus, Garcetti stressed the need to take proactive steps to prevent fires from occurring.
“As it stands now, law enforcement professionals in Los Angeles have limited recourse when it comes to moving people out of brush on days when the fire risk is highest and making sure they don’t inadvertently start fires,” he said. “And often those individuals are homeless individuals living in encampments. That’s not new in the last few years. We’ve seen that in the last few decades. This common-sense update to our laws will … (give) our public safety professionals the authority to reduce the risk of a fire that could spread and keep us all out of harm’s way.”
The proposal will have to be approved by the City Council.
The danger of homeless encampments in high-risk fire areas was highlighted July 30, when a blaze tore through brush in the Sepulveda Basin, where at least 100 homeless people were living in a makeshift encampment. The flames destroyed a number of tents and belongings of people living in the area.
In December 2017, the Skirball Fire — sparked by “an illegal cooking fire” at a homeless encampment — scorched more than 400 acres in the Sepulveda Pass, destroyed a half-dozen homes and damaged 12 others.
“We are here not to address homelessness but to end it, but while we work on that, these encampment fires don’t just have dire consequences for homeless Angelenos that live in remote brush areas, but they also threaten to leave more Angelenos homeless when their lives and properties are consumed by flames,” Garcetti said.