SFVAS issues urgent press release in response to dangerous situation in the Sepulveda Basin

PRESS RELEASE Contact: Katheryn Barton 747-237-3720

June 25, 2024: Yesterday June 24, 2024, a brush fire started at an illegal encampment in the Sepulveda Basin resulting in an explosion injuring 11 of our LAFD firefighters, one severely. As reported by KTLA:

LAFD Capt. Freddy Escobar, who is also president of the union representing L.A. firefighters, expressed frustration. “It was caused by the homeless and we nearly lost a firefighter over this,” he said. “I’m asking the city of Los Angeles, where is the outrage for what’s happening in the city because what we’re doing today is not working.” He went on to say that the homeless encampments are a danger to residents of the city, as well as a danger to every firefighter in the city.

The San Fernando Valley Audubon Society (SFVAS) sponsors environmental education programming involving thousands of LAUSD children in the Basin each year, as well as birdwatching and habitat restoration throughout the undeveloped areas of the Sepulveda Basin, Hansen Dam, and foothills. We frequently alert authorities of illegal encampments specific as to location and the occasional frightening and aggressive behavior of encampment occupants towards our volunteers and programming participants. The numerous fires associated with the encampments included the 2020 fire which destroyed virtually the entire wildlife area and caused one death.

We have been told by both LAPD and Park Rangers that people in the encampments are a protected class and they may not be surveilled, tracked or removed without due notice. Even though LAPD and LAFD certainly have the ability to locate encampments, they are precluded from doing so. Because of the inaccessibility of these areas, it is quite easy for dangerous materials, such as propane tanks and even explosives, to be stored in the encampments.

We at SFVAS are outraged and have been for some time over this absurd situation which endangers everyone. Allowing a handful of people to live and accumulate property, some of it obviously dangerous, in parks and other inaccessible and fire-prone space is unconscionable. We have received feedback from many members of the public who are outraged and fear for their safety when using the parks. As users of these areas and concerned citizens, there is an obvious need to revise protocols for addressing these encampments. A zero-tolerance policy is overdue, with provision for rapid relocation of individuals. As we enter what is sure to be a severe fire season where resources will be stretched thin, we call on our elected officials to address this with the urgency the situation deserves.