[LA FEATURE] Running Dry

LA FEATURE

Coverage of California's three-year dry spell, one of the most severe droughts on record

Tumbleweed Tinder Danger in Sherman Oaks Canyons

Tumbleweeds flourish in hot and dry conditions

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    NEWSLETTERS

    With California facing one of its worst droughts to date, there is a new concern that a growing number of tumbleweeds pose major fire danger. Patrick Healy reports for NBC4 News at 6 p.m. from Sherman Oaks Friday, Aug. 15, 2014. (Published Friday, Aug 15, 2014)

    The giant bushels of tumbleweed seen rolling in old westerns are a unrecognizable green sprout, but come winter, they turn into a serious fire hazard.

    Homeowners in the San Fernando community of Sherman Oaks are worried that the plant, which has flourished in the record-breaking drought, will be a deadly tinder for wildfires this winter.

    "The tumbleweed seeds love the heat," Sherman Oaks resident Arnie Newman said.

    A conservation botanist by training, Newman often walks the hills near his home and he is alarmed by how much tumbleweed he has been seeing in Oak Forest and other canyons.

    Newman said that each plant can transform into a four-foot ball of highly flamable brush when it matures.

    "It is a huge threat," Newman said.

    Newman is not the only one who has noticed this.

    The Santa Monica Mountains conservancy is also seeing more tumbleweed for its crews to remove.

    "In some areas, density per square meter is pretty much off the charts," said Paul Edelman, chief of natural resources and planning for the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.

    Usually it is flatland desert communities where tumbleweeds burn for miles -- not Los Angeles communities.

    The LA Fire Department requires brush clearance within 200 feet of homes every May, but most of this tumbleweed did not even begin to sprout until June.

    Newman has brought the tumbleweed growth to the attention of LA city officials.

    "It's going to be, now or never, getting rid of this while these are small," Newman said. 

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