With California's tinderbox conditions this summer, it is hard to believe anyone would spark a flame in areas prone to wildland fires, but people do, and that is when California State Parks peace officers march in.
"Stopping illegal and dangerous activity that can cause wildland fires is a regular duty for State Parks peace officers working in Malibu and the Santa Monica Mountains area," said Lee Hawkins, State Parks peace officer and interim board member of the Resource Protection Peace Officers Association (RPPOA).
On July 20, 2013, Hawkins and fellow State Parks peace officers responded to a report of an illegal ground fire at Malibu Creek State Park. They discovered an illegal fire burning in the caves at the top of Corral Canyon. State Parks peace officers put out the illegal fire and issued citations to those who started it and watched it burn.
"This was the same area where the devastating 2007 Malibu fire started," said Alan Barcelona, president of the California Statewide Law Enforcement Association (CSLEA). CSLEA is comprised of 18 law enforcement, public safety and consumer protection affiliates, including RPPOA. "That fire was started by five young adults who were drinking in a cave at the park. That fire destroyed more than 50 homes, caused about 15,000 people to evacuated and those flames raced across nearly 5,000 acres."
The ground fire extinguished by State Parks peace officers on July 20, 2013, was spotted and reported by an area resident with binoculars. Responding State Parks peace officers also made contact with Arson Watch, trained volunteers who patrol the area.
“State Park peace officers conduct vehicle and foot patrols to locate, stop, and cite violators who have illegal ground fires in this area," said Officer Hawkins. " Reports from the public and volunteer groups also help us locate and stop this type of dangerous activity. Manpower is an important factor. Our staffing numbers were low last year, but recent increases in area staffing have increased our ability to address this potentially lifesaving issue. "