Brand Park’s hilly terrain can make it tough for firefighters to combat and extinguish wildfires.
One hillside in particular overlooks homes along Mountain Street. With towering, overgrown dried mustard grass covering the area, one spark could put many structures — and lives — at risk.
In light of this, Glendale Fire Department officials turned to unlikely heroes to mitigate such potential dangers: goats.
Goats are the most efficient livestock in clearing brush, especially in areas where it’s hard for firefighters to quickly reach, Glendale Fire Department Fire Chief Tim Ernst said.
“The goats do much better there and they’re more accustomed to the heat,” Ernst said. “They’re a little bit more self-sufficient as far as some of the predators you might find, so they’ve just been found to be probably the No. 1 livestock to be used for this type of job.”
Fire department personnel and members of the Fire Prevention Bureau were out in Brand Park on July 29 to showcase the herd of more than 300 goats stationed along the hill. It’s the third year the department has run this initiative.
Ernst was joined by the department’s vegetation management inspector Patricia Mundo on a hot, muggy Saturday. Her team is part of the bureau tasked with strategically identifying city-owned land in what they call “high fire hazard areas.”
“We’ve had a fire here almost every year, so this is really going to help if we have a fire,” said Mundo of the hillside. “It’s going to really help slow the fire’s progression toward the homes.”
The herd, which started munching away at the brush on July 27, is working to create a separation zone between the vegetation and the structures. Their jobs would be completed in roughly two weeks, Mundo said.
“The goal is to continue with the goat grazing to create a buffer in case we have a wildfire here,” she added, noting for the goats to be deployed in a fire-prone area, the parcel must be city-owned and within 100 feet from homes and 10 feet from roadways.
The department partnered with a Central California-based organization called Fire Grazers for the program.
It’s the second year the group has worked with the city, according to the organization’s CEO Michael Choi, who set up a small play area for visitors to engage with younger goats.
“We needed a business that could support us in our transition from city life to rural, country life, so we founded this kind of business,” said Choi of the family business, which manages nearly 900 goats in total.
The organization previously partnered with other cities such as Palos Verdes, Torrance, Hidden Hills and Westlake Village. A herd would typically chew up an acre a day, Choi said, adding the group’s breed is a “mixed bag.”
Ernst aims to work with more goat grazing contractors to increase the program’s work by at least 200% by next year, if not later on in the fire season, which officials say typically runs from October to December.
“We’re looking at any of the options,” Ernst said. “Surprisingly, the contractors are busier and busier because everyone is recognizing that goats are really doing an efficient job, so it’s actually harder and harder to find contractors that can come in and book for a period of time.”
For more information on ways to prevent fire and defend structures, visit glendaleca.gov/government/departments/fire-department/fire-prevention.
First published in the August 5 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.