L.A. considers allowing law enforcement to remove people from high-risk fire zones

 A Los Angeles City Council committee Wednesday is scheduled to consider a draft ordinance 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," Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said last week at a news conference in
Van Nuys. "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 draft ordinance will be heard at the council's Public Safety Committee meeting and will need City Council approval to become law. The proposal was introduced by Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez and Councilman Bob Blumenfield in January.

In the motion, the council members acknowledged the city posts warnings on high-risk fire days, but they said it would be more effective to allow law enforcement to notify people in person.

"This notice would also warn the person that failure to immediately leave the restricted portion of the zone, or leaving and returning to the zone, constitutes a criminal trespass," the motion states.

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 scorched more than 400 acres in the Sepulveda Pass, destroyed a half-dozen homes and damaged 12 others. Fire officials initially said the blaze was sparked by "an illegal cooking fire" but it is unclear if that preliminary finding has been confirmed by investigators.