Fatal Fire at Top O' Topanga
By Tony Morris
Top O' Topanga resident, Clyde "Jimmy" Mosby, 61, died in a fire which destroyed his mobile home at 135 Pueblo early in the morning of November 16. Mosby's neighbors were awakened by the fire and called 911 at 2 a.m. Firefighters were on the scene in 11 minutes.
Los Angeles County Fire Department Battalion Chief Brian Hughes said firefighters and paramedics from county Fire Stations 68, 69, 70 and 125 were dispatched to the fire with additional support from Los Angeles city Fire Department in Woodland Hills to ensure that the fire didn't spread to adjacent houses.
According to Hughes, a fire rescue team located Mosby, who was already deceased, and covered his body. He said the first responding units could see the fire as they approached Top O' Topanga and the entire mobile home was heavily involved when they arrived.
courtesy of Marsha Carlone
Clyde "Jimmy" Mosby, March 1, 1941 - November 16, 2002.
photo by Gino Picciolo
Mosby died in the fire at his mobile home on Saturday, November 16.
Gino Picciolo, a former call firefighter at Station 69 who lives in Top O' Topanga and saw the flames, said the fire progressed so quickly that Mosby had little chance of being rescued.
"Even if firefighters had arrived a few minutes earlier, it would not have made any difference," said Picciolo. "The mobile home's roof structure had collapsed."
Sheriff's Detective Stephen Davis said that Mosby, who was discovered in his living room, may have been attempting to escape from the fire and was overcome by smoke before he could make it out. He said arson investigators have deemed the cause of the fire to be accidental, not electrical, but that a full investigation has not been completed.
Marsha Carlone, a very close friend and neighbor of Mosby, said that Mosby loved her poodle dog, Angela, and that the little dog often stayed with him. Angela also died in the fire.
She said Mosby lived at Top O' Topanga for five years and had worked for a health management company for 35 years.
"He was a beautiful man loved by everyone he touched," said Carlone. "He was the kind of guy that would give you the shirt off his back if it was the last shirt he had."
She and Mosby had lived together in Santa Monica before coming to Topanga. He loved volleyball and played for years on Santa Monica beach with basketball star Wilt Chamberlain.
Mosby was born on March 1, 1941, in Ilyria, Ohio and is survived by two brothers and his mother.
Willow Ross, a longtime resident, said she and Mosby had recently worked together at the Top O' Topanga polling location. "He was such a nice person, always asking if he could help others. I wish I had known him better."
A memorial was held for Mosby on November 23 at the home of Laura and Dan O'Brien in Tarzana.
"He was a gentle, honest and kind person," said Laura O'Brien.
The O'Briens met Mosby in the 1970s playing basketball at Santa Monica High School.
The night before Mosby died, he had been to visit Dan O'Brien in the hospital. Dan O'Brien is still recovering from injuries he suffered in a car accident on Topanga Canyon Boulevard on November 7 during the recent rains. He was released on November 22 in time for Mosby's memorial gathering.
"We're going to give him a good send-off back to God," said Laura O'Brien.
A number of residents heard rumors that fire units had difficulty entering through the park's closed entry gate, but Battalion Chief Hughes said this was not the case. He said Sheriff's deputies who were first to arrive did have difficulty initially because they do not have the specialized keys the Fire Department has. The Fire Department had no difficulty entering, he said.
Another rumor, that a water hydrant ran low on water while firefighters fought the fire, was also not correct, according to Hughes. They had plenty of water with them, he said, if there had been a problem. He said 33 personnel were on the scene, including six engines.
Hughes said there was some damage to neighboring houses, but placing hose lines between the buildings minimized radiant heat damage. There was little wind at the time the fire broke out, he said.
Hughes said that mobile home parks have different construction standards that are set by the state than those set by the local fire codes.
He said mobile homes, especially older ones as Mosby's was, are frequently made of highly flammable materials such as thin wallboards and plastics that burn quickly. Also, they sometimes have old aluminum windows that are hard to open or too small, and limited escape options, he said.
"This all stresses the importance of working smoke detectors," said Hughes. Also, he said it is important to have an escape plan. Some mobile homes have added low, escape hatches because the only exit may be blocked in a fire.
This is the time of year when there are the most fire- and smoke-related deaths, Hughes said, because houses are closed up and people are beginning to use heating.
Fencing Mandate Angers Waterworks Neighbor
PHOTO BY SUSAN CHASEN
New post-September 11 security fencing for a pump-house in Old Canyon that neighbors say looks like "Stalag 17."
By Susan Chasen
County waterworks engineers are currently working on a compromise solution with Topanga residents Richard and Christine Roper over recently installed "prison-like" fencing around a district pump-house adjacent to the Roper home in Old Canyon.
The Ropers were stunned in October to find 12-foot-high fencing topped with strands of barbed wire installed along about 90 feet of their property line. This project, according to county officials, is part of a $93,000 contract to increase security since September 11.
"We need to secure the facilities to prevent people from getting in and causing damage...or attempting to contaminate our facilities," said senior civil engineer Greg Even with the county Public Works Waterworks Division.
New fencing has been installed at 11 waterworks facilities in mountain-areas that had not previously been fenced off.
This new fencing, however, is much higher than existing fencing at other Topanga-area facilities and has barbed wire.
For the Ropers, however, the fencing is too much for a small locked, block-construction building.
"I think you've gone way too far in the way you've done this," said Roper, to Even and several other waterworks engineers and maintenance staff who met on the property to discuss his concerns. "It's overkill," said Roper, who describes the facility as looking like "Stalag 17."
Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky's senior field deputy Susan Nissman has also met with Roper at the site to discuss options for scaling back the fencing.
The county has already agreed to move some of the fencing, which pleased another neighbor because it will no longer block the view from her bedroom window.
However, the Ropers still see the fencing from the front of their house and say it makes them feel like they live in a prison compound.
"You're not in jail if it was over there," said Christine Roper, suggesting that the fence could be closer to the pump house and provide the same amount of security.
"It's so hideous to live in a compound," said Christine Roper. "I am in Topanga. We're here for a reason."
The Ropers also believe the barrier serves to encourage people to walk onto their property, around the fenced area, to continue up to the water tanks and trails in the Red Rock area.
Richard Roper said he has already had someone on horseback wander up his driveway only to discover it is too steep at that point to get back safely onto the waterworks driveway.
The problem for public works is that they have to be able to replace the water-pumps if necessary and that requires a large boom-truck. They believe that the fenced area should accommodate the truck.
So far, the county's compromise is to reduce the fenced area to exclude a parking and turnaround area, but they still envision fencing along the property line. An additional constraint is that, if an emergency generator is needed during a power failure, it too must fit into the fenced area .
Nissman encouraged the engineers to try to think creatively at a meeting at the site on November 6, but she also urged the Ropers to consider the possibility of accepting a compromise.
County engineers have agreed to meet with a civil engineer the Ropers have hired to explore alternative designs.
Richard Roper said he understands why the waterworks district would want to block vehicular traffic up the driveway leading to the water tanks, but a fence across the driveway would do that without the dramatic aesthetic impact and still allow pedestrians and horseback riders to pass.
The fencing at this location is far more extensive than at two other pump-houses in Topanga. One has fencing about 3-feet high. Another has fencing across the vehicle access, but is otherwise open.
The Public Works representatives said vulnerability assessments are being completed at all water facility sites and that additional measures are likely.
Chili Cook-off Not Just a Hill O'Beans
PHOTO BY KATIE DALSEMER
Chili cook-off winner Tom DuKet, second from right, celebrates with Kyle Chandler, Randy Just and Laura Bateman.
By Susan Chasen
A few days of rain was not enough to take the steam out of Topanga's annual chili contest and swap meet. Postponed by one week, to November 16, this year's tournament of chilis was as heated as ever, with eight entrants--including a few wearing "Danger, Men Cooking" aprons. I just got the hell out.
These people will stop at nothing to be Topanga's top chili-monger. There they were in the Community House, with their little Coleman camp stoves, chopping away at their onions and veggies, and, one suspects, completely determined to psyche each other out. There is surely much to the chili cook-off game that is missed by the uninitiated.
Speaking of the big game, there was Laura Bateman, our chili champion in 2000, with the perfect rustic setup--something more rudimentary than even the Coleman stove--cooking with the only honest meat in the room--elk that her husband Chuck shot for her. How can you beat that?
She won two years ago with antelope chili. But this year, she came in third.
It was Tom DuKet, with his traditional chili-tasting chili, who took the prize this year--a gracious man in victory.
"There were so many good chilis," said DuKet. "I can't believe that I won....It was amazing that there were so many good chilis."
Without giving away too much of his secret recipe, DuKet said he uses ground beef and pork--"something to offend everyone."
According to DuKet, you need the fat.
"It makes a richer tasting chili....That's why I don't eat my chili everyday."
DuKet, 59, is also a frequent winner in his age group of the Tough Topanga 10K race, "when certain people don't show up," he joked. He also is an award-winning winemaker. His wine-sipping while concocting his pot of chili led to the suspicion that wine was responsible for his success in one way or another.
But no, he said, while he did put a little in, he wouldn't advise using too much wine.
"Cooking is balance," said DuKet.
Cooking and winemaking are a lot alike in that way, he said.
For DuKet, the Chili Cook-off is a treasured Topanga event.
"It's a great, great tradition. It's right up there with Topanga Days and other things we want to keep alive." We need to keep people interested in community, he said, "because it's disappearing off the face of the earth."
DuKet loves the competition and the camaraderie. It makes the chili come out better than at home, he said.
"It's always better because you're concentrating," said DuKet. Everything supports the effort, he said, smelling each other's chili, shopping for the perfect ingredients, and the spirit of competition.
"These folks are trying to win," said DuKet.
There are wide variations in the types of chilis people make. This year's one vegetarian entry was a mole, or chocolate, type recipe. When someone asked DuKet why there weren't more vegetarian chilis, he said he answered, "Why aren't you cooking it?"
"We really need that kind of diversity," said DuKet. Elysium Fields, Topanga's long-time clothing-optional retreat that is no more, he said, used to compete with a delicious vegetarian chili.
One word of warning, DuKet said, is don't try to compromise and use turkey.
"You gotta have the bad stuff," he said. "The more expensive the meat, the more you miss chili."
This year DuKet took his $50 prize money and put it toward a cornet he bought at the swap meet for $95.
"Now I've got to learn to play it again."
DuKet has been in the cook-off four or five times, he said, generally alternating with his wife Judy. Both have won before. When she won in 1992, he recalled taking her prize money and buying a drill from Thad Geer. He felt so bad about it that he had a special tile made with a bowl of chili and a spoon to commemorate her win.
Other chili competitors this year were Kyle Chandler, whose chili placed second; Randy Just, Thad Geer, Piper Norwood, Sarah Baisley and Erin Bowling.
There were six pies in the apple pie competition. Doug Kirby took the prize of $25.
Alan Boivin showed up with some friends to play music.
The swap meet was like a miniature Topanga Days with great browsing and many great buys. My favorite item of the day was a funny joke not suitable to print in a family newspaper, that one of the vendors told. He said if my friend and I came around again he would tell us another, but we forgot to. Darn it.
Topanga Elementary School's Tuck Shop, which is also open at the school on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. was set up there.
"It was a good turnout considering we had to move it," said Lola Babalon, president of the Topanga Community Club. "It looked like much fun was had by all.
"I sold the things I brought," she said, and bought almost as much again.
Soccer Tort Fears Prompt Field Talks
Soccer players at the Community House were angry that their goal posts were removed, but a resolution of the Topanga Community Club's liability concerns may result in their return.
By Tony Morris
Topanga soccer players and members of the Topanga Community Club board of directors met on November 14 at the Community House to discuss the future of soccer on the ballfield where pick-up games have been played for many years.
Players wanted an explanation for the recent removal of goal posts from the field.
According to some board members, the TCC's liability has been an issue since a soccer player sustained a major injury during a game last year. Board members and the Community House committee expressed concern that liability coverage for all athletic activities had to be in place, but Topanga soccer players do not have a formal organization to provide insurance coverage.
Board members said they have tried to get the soccer players attention and that removal of goal posts was intended to prompt discussion between the two groups. Many soccer players in attendance at the meeting said they saw the action as punitive and unacceptable.
Colin Hay, who has played soccer at the Community House for 10 years, said: "We all have the desire in common to play soccer. It's a release. That's all we really want to do. There's an inherent desire not to be organized. Nobody wants to 'run' it. It's a pick-up game."
Lynn Henley, a regular soccer player, has been investigating liability coverage for the Community Club which would include coverage for activities like soccer. Proposals are in process and are expected to be received in the near future.
Topanga Town Council president Manfred Schlosser said that the Council has approved a contribution to the Community Club for restoration of the soccer field. Before any work can commence, a durable grass species must be selected and details on the overall work required will need to be completed.
Hay said it's important that soccer be allowed at the Community House. "Soccer is one of the only activities where teenagers and adults can play together. It's remarkable that there have only been one or two incidents over the years--very low."
Lower Topanga: A Distant Future
By Susan Chasen
Riding around in Lower Topanga with Steve White, State Parks superintendent of the Topanga Sector, and Suzanne Goode, State Parks senior resource ecologist, it is clear they have their sights on the long-term future of this addition to Topanga State Park, and there is much to be done. Both emphasized that restoration of the property will be a long process. In the meantime, a private contractor is handling relocation of the residential community.
There will be a lot to remove even after the people are gone. There is the concrete levee that has prevented the creek from flooding portions of the property. There are large swaths of arundo, the invasive giant reed plant. And there are 49 houses. Also, if the goal of restoring the lagoon can be engineered and funded, there will be close to a million cubic yards of fill dirt to remove and dispose of, possibly on the beach or in the ocean, a new beach parking lot and a new 400-foot-long bridge for the Pacific Coast Highway to build.
Goode said restoration of the lagoon will be incorporated into the general plan for the property as a goal and a vision, but that the Santa Monica Mountains Resource Conservation District is a little ahead of State Parks in pursuing that goal.
"Sometimes the money follows," said Goode of the RCD's advance work on restoration.
For now the first step is to demolish 19 of the houses. The California Coastal Commission approved a coastal permit waiver on November 5 to allow State Parks to go forward with demolition. A contract is expected to be awarded early next year to take out all 19 at once.
White pointed out the deteriorated condition of some of the houses and described the way electrical wiring was sometimes strung from house to house and plumbing shared. These conditions, said White, could be a liability for State Parks if it were to allow tenants to stay without making repairs.
"It scares me to see conditions like this," said White. "I think of how wonderful the restored area will be and that it will be giving something back to the wildlife that humans have taken away."
White said he could not identify which of the houses were among those slated for demolition, but that the project manager at State Parks' Southern California Service Center in San Diego would know the addresses. The project manager could not be reached to identify the houses.
Similarly, the Coastal Commission report recommending the permit waiver did not include addresses of the houses. Paul Webb, a State Parks land officer with the Acquisitions Section, said he thought the Coastal Commission was given a map that identified the locations of the houses. There are about 49 main residential structures in Lower Topanga as well as numerous guest houses and studios that come to about 78 separate households.
A little over half of the residences have been vacated.
White said he has identified six or seven houses so far--some still occupied --that will be refurbished to house State Parks employees or for park operations. The interim plan for the property projects eight or nine houses will be retained. Two bungalows of the Topanga Ranch Motel are already being used by park employees, he said.
Asked whether these homes will be used exclusively for rangers serving this park, White explained that State Parks needs the affordable housing.
"We need to retain good employees here," he said, and housing costs in the area make it difficult.
Goode pointed out the need to eradicate the invasive arundo that crowds out diverse plant communities which in turn provide more diverse habitat for wildlife. She said State Parks policy is to avoid using chemical herbicides if the goal can be accomplished without them, she admitted she does not believe mechanical methods can work on the scale of arundo removal needed in Lower Topanga.
"It's such a strong grower," said Goode. "It just comes back again and again and again."
Arundo also tends to have the effect of channelizing the creek, narrowing it and increasing its destructive velocity, she said.
"We don't intend to come in and remove all non-natives at once," said Goode. "Wildlife have adapted and they use it."
She said the changes will be made incrementally over a couple of decades.
"A lot of this restoration may not happen in our careers," said Goode. "This is a very long-term process."
Ahmanson Reaching Decision Time
By Susan Chasen
The Ventura County Planning Commission voted 3 to 2 on November 22 to approve the controversial environmental impact report for the Ahmanson Ranch development, which brings the 3,050-home new "mini-city" one step closer to beginning construction.
The Ventura County Board of Supervisors may vote on the EIR as soon as December 10, but opponents are calling for night-time public hearings throughout the county before the vote. That could delay consideration until early next year.
In January, Supervisor Frank Schillo, who has supported the project, will be replaced on the board by Linda Parks who opposes it. The change could affect the future of the mammoth development, if the other four supervisors votes are consistent with their planning commission appointees. However, a pre-existing development agreement between the developer and the county, in which public lands have already been dedicated, will continue to complicate options for the property.
Calabasas Mayor Lesley Devine has appealed to Ventura County Supervisor Frank Schillo, representing the Thousand Oaks area, to be a hero and bring Ahmanson Ranch developer Washington Mutual Bank to the negotiating table as a willing seller of the 2,800-acre property for parkland.
She made her plea at a meeting Schillo convened on November 21 with representatives from cities along the 101 freeway, to propose a regional joint powers authority to set traffic mitigation fees for new development.
"The Ahmanson Ranch project represents the biggest threat to making traffic on the 101 even less tolerable than it is now for commuters," said Devine. "If this project is approved to proceed by the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, it would add a minimum estimated 46,000 cars a day.
"Traffic impacts from Ahmanson Ranch can be easily solved by just not building that oversized project," said Devine. "The public is ready to buy."
She said Schillo's response to her appeal was a polite chuckle.
"He didn't take up the challenge," said Devine.
However, she said other officials, from cities neighboring the Ahmanson Ranch property, which is just over the Los Angeles County line in Ventura County, seemed concerned by her descriptions of 46,000 cars on the residential roads leading to and from the freeway.
Schillo's proposal, she said, would raise $10,000 per unit, or about $34 million to put toward traffic mitigation from Ahmanson, but those fees should be required by Ventura County anyway.
According to Devine, the going rate for adding freeway capacity is $30 million per mile, which is beyond the funding ability of local government-imposed traffic mitigation fees.
She said there was consensus at the meeting to work together in pursuit of state and federal funding for improvements, to develop traffic management plans, identify fixed constraints such as topography, to address public safety concerns such as evacuation procedures in the event of a toxic spill on the freeway, and alternative ideas to ease congestion such as a "healthy commuting times" program.
In addition to the homes, the Ahmanson Ranch project includes a school, office space and a golf course.
Devine believes the money could be put together to purchase Ahmanson Ranch from a combination of state and federal dollars.
Estimates of the cost to buy Ahmanson are upwards of $100 million.
Pavley Honored by Scientific American
Scientific American magazine has included California Assemblymember Fran Pavley in their first Scientific American 50 edition, honoring 50 individuals, teams, companies and other organizations whose accomplishments in the previous year demonstrate that they have a clear, progressive vision of the technological future.
Pavley was selected as the magazine's honoree in the area of transportation technology for "her work championing higher auto emissions standards in California, to the benefit of the global environment." The editors cited her leadership in California which has often been a model for changes throughout the country.
"It is an incredible honor for me to be recognized by a publication of the international stature of Scientific American,"said Pavley. "I'd like to thank the broad coalition of support that was instrumental in the passage of AB1493. The Air Resource Board is now working on regulations that will result in cleaner operating cars, and that may encourage the manufacturing of alternative fuel vehicles."
Mountain Lion Sightings Increase
"Skipper" Farley of Jando Road in Old Canyon reports that she has seen more mountain lions on Topanga trails and fireroads in the last two years than in many years before. She is concerned that residents are made aware of the possible danger and that children are watched when they are playing outside.
She said she has seen mountain lions three or four times riding her horse in the afternoon on Henry Ridge and the sightings were close to a Calabasas subdivision west of the fireroad. Other reports from friends, she said, include sightings at Mill Creek stables, in broad daylight, off Hillside behind Froggy's, and on Hodgson Circle--about seven or eight reports in all. One family, she said, moved from a home on Skyline Drive near Marquette because of mountain lion sightings.
"I think it's important because a mountain lion could easily take a kid down," said Farley. "If something walks away from it, their instinct is to jump on its back. That would be a real tragedy if it happened to some kid."
A 33-year Topanga resident, Farley said she believes the mountain lions' habits are changing and they are perhaps losing their fear of contact with humans. Until the last two years, Farley said, she had seen only two or three mountain lions in about 30 years and that was during a fire when they were disoriented.
"People used to think they were nocturnal," said Farley, but now there are numerous daytime sightings.
Children should be warned about how to react if they encounter a mountain lion, Farley said. "You don't ever turn your back and run," she said, because it may trigger their instinct to chase down their prey and they can't be outrun.
Instead, the best idea is to scream and jump up and down to make yourself big, and to grab whatever is available to use to defend yourself and scare it away.
She suggests that children should always have at least one big dog with them in the yard or exploring on the trails.
The Fire Department's Eyes and Ears
Allen Emerson was honored on October 23 by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department for his 20 years leading Arson Watch.
By Tony Morris
The 20th anniversary of Arson Watch was marked by a ceremony at Pepperdine University's Smother's Theater on October 23 honoring Arson Watch volunteers. Allen Emerson, Arson Watch founder and coordinator joined with representatives from the Sheriff's Department, Los Angeles Fire Department and the mayors of Malibu and Calabasas in honoring volunteers from Topanga, Malibu, Calabasas, Agoura Hills, Chatsworth and Malibou Lake.
Arson Watch volunteers received certificates of commendation from their Arson Watch Team Leaders. Emerson received special commendations from the City of Malibu and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department for his 20 years of dedicated work.
For 20 years, Emerson has coordinated the work of volunteers who patrol the Santa Monica Mountains communities to prevent wildfires, reporting vital information to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, the county Fire Department and the California Highway Patrol.
Arson Watch volunteers in Topanga represent a cross section of the community and provide a first line of defense against catastrophic wildfires.
"They're always trying to prevent disaster from happening, rather than reacting to it," said Patrick Nelson, a Topanga volunteer who joined in 2001.
"This is a great place to live but there are some problems due to the topography, climate and vegetation," said Nelson, a 10-year resident who is a publisher of a music industry newsletter. "I want to continue to live here but I want to mitigate the fire danger. Arson Watch was a logical organization to join."
Nelson uses his radio moniker, "Topanga 40," to communicate with other volunteers while on patrol. He has also equipped his house with a loud speaker connected to Arson Watch's emergency frequency. Should a fire break out in the middle of the night, he will be immediately alerted to the incident.
Arson Watch volunteers monitor the weather during Santa Ana conditions when hot winds blow from the east. Emerson receives information from the Southern California Interagency Fire Center in Riverside, which provides temperature, humidity and wind-speed data. Volunteers are alerted by e-mail or phone if there is a "Red Flag" day when fire danger is high. Instruments at Los Angeles County Fire Department's Camp 8 above Malibu send hourly information on wind and moisture by satellite. Nelson is working on a scheduling system on Arson Watch's website to enable volunteers to schedule their patrol hours on the Internet.
For Patrick Nelson, as he walks his dog Garuda in the hills above Topanga, Arson Watch patrols are a chance to get out of the house, be in the fresh air and stand next to your vehicle watching the hawks circle overhead while searching for any signs of fire.
Musician and artist David Lichten has been an Arson Watch volunteer for three years.
"This is fire country. Indeed the Hollywood Hills, where I was born and raised, is fire country," said Lichten. "It is a part of my life and I cannot sit quietly at home on a hot day and not do something, because fire is part of this place. It is inevitable."
In 1979 Lichten had to flee the Laurel Canyon fire. He said he won't ever forget the speed with which the fire burned over the area. The Arson Watch is a necessity to Lichten, who urges Topangans to join the organization.
"Anybody who has the time and inclination should join up and put in a couple of hours a week during the fire season. It is a question of responsibility for your family and for your friends and your property. It is the right thing to do and I don't know of any other civilian organization that is keyed to such 'real' reality."
Lichten said that major fires have been prevented in Topanga and other communities because of Arson Watch patrols. He said the presence of these patrols is a preventive measure and a deterrent.
"It is the best line of defense that we have--observation and communication. It can happen at any minute, at any time. Anybody who has a sense of responsibility, a little bit of common sense, should get on board."
For more than 13 years, Barbara Campbell, a veteran real estate agent with Coast & Canyon, has been going out on patrol in the hills of Topanga with their dense brush and Topanga's history of brushfires.
"It's necessary to be out there watching when the Fire Department can't. Their eyes and ears--that's what they call us," said Campbell.
"There is a need to make newcomers and everyone aware of what they seem to forget when they come into the Canyon," said Campbell. "Even some of our own people. You cannot light fires and you cannot smoke outside during the fire season."
Campbell said when she patrols on Saddle Peak she often meets motorcyclists riding through the area.
"The bikers some in and they smoke and light their cigarettes. I don't say a word to them....Then one of them will say, 'Can't you see there's a sign that says you are not supposed to be smoking. Put your cigarette out.' They put their cigarettes out."
Campbell sees the Arson Watch as an important presence. With Arson Watch signs on their vehicles the volunteers are a reminder of the fire danger in Topanga.
"We are reminders and are willing to go out and spend a minimum of two hours on patrol whenever there is a fire watch....Some of us do it longer if we are able and some of us do it every single day," said Campbell. "We are willing to do that to keep everything safe...because we live here."
Campbell has the highest regard for Emerson.
"I think Allen is absolutely the best. I don't think anyone is ever going to be able to replace him. No one can do what he has done and what he still does."
Campbell said Emerson's use of his emergency scanner is legendary. It is always with him. Others in the organization have tried to monitor the scanner for 24 hours and have been unable to accomplish what Emerson does as part of his daily routine.
"He is listening all the time. So he is on adrenaline all the time, ready to move when something happens. He's contacted by all the big people, whenever anything happens. If anybody wants to know anything, they call Allen."
According to Emerson, Arson Watch needs more volunteers to go out on patrol during weekdays. Each member on patrol needs a radio to communicate with Emerson and other volunteers. Radios are expensive and the organization depends upon contributions from its supporters to accomplish its work.
Emerson also noted that anyone who sees someone throwing a cigarette out of a car or traffic violations can report the license number with time and location to the California Highway Patrol at (800) TELLCHP, or (800) 835-5247. For more information about Arson Watch, or to make a donation, contact Emerson at (310) 455-4244 or write to him at Friends of Arson Watch and Disaster Services, P.O. Box 197, Topanga, CA 90290.