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Cattle used for brush clearance

Cattle used for brush clearance

July 24, 1985: Ranch hands Kenny Rolston, left, and Rick McElvain watch over herd of nearly 300 cattle grazing along the Ventura Freeway in Agoura. The Los Angeles County Fire Department filled the water tank on right for the four-legged lawn mowers.

In the July 25, 1985, Los Angeles Times, staff writer Bob Pool reported:

Their bullwhips and lariats snapping, four lanky cowboys rode Wednesday to the rescue of an Agoura neighborhood surrounded by thick strands of flammable, chest-high grass.

The wranglers moved a 300-head herd of cattle to the upwind side of the 472-home Liberty Canyon area so the animals can eat away this season’s bumper crop of wild oaks and weeds before a brush fire can sweep the field and threaten the neighborhood.

The unusual roundup was requested by Los Angeles County fire officials, who have been blocked by the state from burning a series of safety firebreaks along the Ventura Freeway in the Agoura and Calabasas area.

Grass and brush clearance is viewed by firefighters as essential. They say fall Santa Ana winds have a history of sending brush fires through the area and across the freeway. In October 1982, such a fire swept from Chatsworth to Mailbu, burning three homes.

But the Fire Department’s controlled-burn program was ordered halted for 30 days Tuesday when forestry officials in Sacramento decided that conditions in Agoura and Calabasas are too hot and dry for the fires to be safely set.

“The county’s got the right idea about these controlled burns.” said Agoura rancher Al McLauren as his wranglers finished Wednesday’s two-mile cattle drive, and the hungry animals fanned out across the dry field.

“I hate to see good grass like this burn. But there’s no other other way to prevent bad fires from occurring later. That 1982 brush fire cooked this area from Las Virgenes to Chesebro Road in 15 minutes. These fires always go the same way, and firemen know it. They know where to do their burns.” …

The cattle had enough vegetation to remain a month. But a week later forestry officials lifted the controlled-burn ban and the herd was moved out.

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