Fire Suppression in the Hills Above Brentwood

Let’s try a little thought experiment.

Anyone who lives in the canyons north of Sunset is rightly concerned about the possibility of fire. 

This isn’t just “possibility”; every so many years we have a real fire. With climate change, the fires burn faster and hotter. 

What if we built a state-of-the-art fire station up at the top of the hills, at Mulholland? What if we equipped this fire station with a gigantic water tank, a helicopter (that can carry and drop water) and drones that can zero in on the exact location of fires just after they start?

Let’s complement all this with a text/phone/Siri/Alexa system that can put out a fire alert message to hillside residents that a fire just started. 

Sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it?

If we really wanted to get fancy, we could run a big hose that started in the ocean off Palisades or Malibu and then run it across the top of Mulholland. This saltwater could be used to fill another gigantic water tank. This water could be used to put out fires if things get that bad. The hose would be accessible to firefighters trying to extinguish fires in the canyons, below. 

We already use saltwater to fight fires. Gigantic “super scooper” planes capture ocean water off the coast and then dump it on top of the fires. In a time of drought, we could run out of fresh water and saltwater could be our backup system.

Seawater isn’t considered good for vegetation, so it should be used only as a backup if our freshwater supply is low – a real possibility. But saltwater pouring down on a house on fire – dumped by a helicopter or a workhorse drone — is certainly an acceptable alternative in an emergency, or if our freshwater supply is exhausted. 

If this sounds like science fiction, companies are already working on building fire-fighting drones that don’t require humans to fly them. Here’s a link to an article about this: https://www.popsci.com/technology/firefighting-drones-help-fight-wildfires/

The technology is coming. It’s just a matter of time. And we have as much water as we could ever need, just a few miles to the west. If there’s any place on earth this idea could work, it’s here. 

A bigger impediment to creating this 21st Century fire station up in the hills above Brentwood will be lack of money and all the studies and red tape that will be required to approve such a project. Just because something can be done and it’s a good idea doesn’t mean it will happen right away. 

Here’s another thought that might expedite all this. The Berggruen Institute wants to build a world-class think tank up near The Getty and The Skirball Center. It will be a little more inland from the 405. Like any new project, The Berggruen Institute is controversial. Many don’t like the idea of any developments up in the hills. It’s hard to recall now, but many opposed The Getty before it finally got approved.

Most of those who don’t like the idea of the Berggruen Institute start by citing the potential increase in fire danger. First of all, I can’t imagine this new facility wouldn’t have the best fire-prevention and suppression systems on the planet. Why would Berggruen build something that might burn down soon enough? Plans I’ve seen indicate everything will be built using fireproof materials. 

But what if, in order to get its project approved, the Berggruen Institute agreed to build the futuristic fire station I’ve described? Berggruen would work with Brentwood homeowner groups, the Brentwood Community Council, the LAFD and the City Council to work out all the details. 

If we rolled up our sleeves and got creative, we could do something amazing for Brentwood – and maybe other fire-prone areas that could emulate our model. I think this idea is a win-win. Berggruen gets its location approved; Brentwood residents who live in the hills get much greater fire protection than they have now. 

Should the Berggruen Institute get shot down, a future developer would have the right to build a bunch of homes in that same location. If every one of those new homes has a backyard grill and a few of these homes are owned by individuals who smoke, that sounds far more dangerous than the Berggruen Institute.

Let’s open our minds, Brentwood. There’s a deal to be had here. The purpose of Berggruen Institute is to study serious problems facing mankind – like global warming. Won’t Brentwood be proud if and when Berggruen comes up with ideas our elected officials actually adopt? I can envision Brentwood one day being as proud of Berggruen as it now is of The Getty and The Skirball Center. 

If the risk of fire is the real concern here, that’s a problem we can solve.

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