With the devastating effects of the California drought comes the ever-present risk of dangerous wildfires. But a fire department in Southern California has been using an unusual tactic to keep fires from getting out of control.
According to ABC News, hundreds of goats have been released across the Simi Valley hillside in Ventura County, California, to eat all the flammable vegetation that has dried up from the lack of rainfall. Notorious for eating a lot of just about anything, goats are the perfect candidate to clear out all the brush that would otherwise cause fires to spread more rapidly.
Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen held a press conference about the goat strategy, claiming that southern California has so much natural fuel for fire that the smallest flame could cause catastrophic damage, even on colder days.
“We have this tremendous crop of grasses out there… these grasses that were green just a month ago have all now tiered and turned brown. We still have this dead, decadent brush as a result of the years of drought. With these dry grasses, now we have this latter fuel – these fine, flashy fuels that will carry the fire right into our decadent brush.”
Ideally, Ventura County should receive as much as 15 inches of rainfall every year. But a mere eight inches fell in total last year, and only six inches have fallen so far in 2016. If the drought keeps up, the dry brush will only pose a bigger fire threat.
Fortunately, the fire department has hired about 450 goats to devour the dry grass from the landscape. Authorities plan to continue to release the firefighting goats for the next four to six weeks, or as long as it takes to eliminate the especially dangerous areas of thick brush. The hope is that the swarm of goats will consume every last bit of vegetation, leaving virtually nothing left to catch fire.
Fire officials are also hoping to create safety areas of 100 feet between homes and the wild brush, to ensure that wildfires don’t have a direct path of brush fuel to set buildings on fire. According to NBC Los Angeles, the fire department brought the goats to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library to clear out entire acres of brush surrounding the facility, which is located about 50 miles from Los Angeles.
“They pretty much eat around our entire property,” said Melissa Giller from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation. “They are within a fenced area, and once that area is ‘clean’ the fence is moved to the next part of the property.”
— ABC News (@ABC) May 12, 2016
The goats are expected to create what’s called a “defensible space” between flammable areas and inhabited buildings. While the goats alone may not be enough to stop wildfires from spreading, they will at least make it easier for firefighters to protect suburban areas.
“The goats are great, a wonderful attraction piece for the library, too,” said another Fire Department worker, Heather Sumagaysay. “It’s also a reminder that we are talking about wildfire season starting early. A couple weeks ago, we had a 50-acre brush fire. We have had recent rain, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a high-risk fire season.”
Wildfire protection goats chew through brush outside Reagan Library in Simi Valley: https://t.co/Poh4wXfvnk
— #NBC7 San Diego (@nbcsandiego) May 11, 2016
The goats were borrowed from a nearby California ranch. And though a horde of 450 goats may seem like a lot to manage, they are continually watched and maintained by a goat herder and herding dogs. Their feast is also restricted within a fenced-in area. Nothing the goats aren’t allowed to consume is left inside, including plants and other animals.
As strange as it may sound to use goats to prevent fires, it’s not a brand new idea. Giller explained that nearly 1,000 goats were employed last year to do the same job. And it only took them a week to consume all the dry brush.
[Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]