When it comes to protecting buildings from wildfires, one of the most effective strategies is to clear out nearby brush. Without vegetation to burn, fire can be kept at a distance.
And, to make sure that job gets done thoroughly and with unrivaled enthusiasm, the Reagan Library in Simi Valley turns to the experts — a herd of goats.
“It benefits the goats, but it certainly has benefited us,” said supervisory curator Randle Swan.
There were tense moments last month when the Easy Fire burned uphill toward the hilltop library with sweeping views of the valley below, but Swan and other staff members could take comfort in knowing much of that hillside had already been cleared by a herd from 805 Goats. The goat grazing service based in the Conejo Valley northwest of Los Angeles is the go-to solution for firebreaks and the library and other Southern California locations where the wildfire threat is heightened by dry brush.
“I knew what the goats had done, but I was hoping there wouldn’t be much re-growth,” said Scott Morris, the owner of 805 Goats. “We had a nice firebreak that was there, and the goats did their job.”
Goats aren’t just ideal candidates for brush clearance because they love to eat — they’re also skilled and tireless climbers. They can spend extended time on steep hillsides, happily grazing while providing a critical wildfire safety service.
The cost runs about $1,000 to $2,000 per acre, depending on conditions. Greg Manke, a contractor who employs the herd, said goats appear to be built for the work.
“Seems like a great way to go,” Manke said, adding he hasn’t seen any downside.
Months before the October Easy Fire surrounded the Reagan Library, goats had been deployed to chew through brush that sprouted after the wet winter months. By late that morning, flames could be seen from the floor-to-ceiling window inside the library’s stunning Air Force One pavilion.
The entire complex was shrouded in smoke.
Firefighters were positioned near the library, which was closed to visitors for the day. Flames came to within about 30 yards of the complex, but several water drops and firebreaks helped protect buildings.
The exterior of the library has scorch marks all the way around, but no significant damage was reported.
“Everything worked the way it was supposed to,” Swan said after the fire. “The buildings are unharmed.”
That’s due to the efforts of firefighters, including those with four legs and a healthy appetite for fire protection.