October 25, 2014

Red Rock Fire Threatens Canyon!

 

PHOTO BY JIM SMITH

Red Rock Fire Threatens Canyon!

Downed power lines at the corner of Old Topanga Canyon Road and Red Rock Road burned the Italian cypress trees in front of a house that resulted in several brush fires.

Quick thinking by residents and overwhelming (and welcome) response by the L.A. County Fire Department saved the day on Tuesday, January 14, a Red Flag day when the wind was gusting and the Canyon was tinder dry.

Around 12:30 p.m., the power line leading into Jill and Kevin Williams home at 1255 Old Topanga Canyon Road, snapped and sparked, setting a cable line, a wooden fence and several highly flammable Italian cypress trees ablaze, spewing embers on surrounding homes and into the hills.

Southern California Edison Regional Manager Rudy Gonzalez is sure that wind gusts most likely pushed a cypress tree against the power line causing it to break and spark.

Chris Harz, who lives across the street, took a garden hose and kept watering down his home and outbuildings as embers rained down.

Smelling smoke in her office, Mary Rhodes, walked into her yard to see black smoke filling the air. She quickly called 9-1-1 to report the fire while grabbing a garden hose to douse flames that had jumped across Red Rock Road into dry grass growing alongside the road. The hose didn’t quite reach across the road to the fire but she and a neighbor stayed with it.

Rhodes was more than a little dismayed at the 9-1-1 response. “When I reported the fire,” she said, “the voice on the other end of the phone said, ‘We don’t have a Red Rock. We have Skyline.’” Rhodes quickly retorted saying, “Just send them up to Skyline and they’ll drive right by the fire!”

Cheri Brosius was trying to put out a spot fire that ignited on her property above when her tenant, Bernhard Guenther, took over and put it out. When ground crews arrived soon after, Brosius said they cleared a lot of the brush that could have carried the fire up the mountain and out of control had she and Guenther not acted as quickly as they did.

Guenther not only successfully manned the garden hose but his iPhone camera as well and made a video (https://vimeo.com/84244526).

Both Harz and Rhodes said it took 10 to 20 minutes before firefighters arrived, but when they did, it was in spades.

PHOTO BY DAVE LYNCH

Red Rock Fire Threatens Canyon!

A Canadian Super Scooper flies low over the Canyon above Red Rock to extinguish flames from about three spot fires caused by flying embers.

As firefighters from Stations 70, 65 and 125 joined Station 69 to battle the blaze below, what appeared to be three Erickson helicopters and two twin-engine Canadian Super Scoopers, leased by L.A. County, started making strategic water drops, nailing hot spots that had begun to creep up the hillside and saturating the surrounding area throughout the day.

Homeowner Jill Williams was shopping at Vons when friend Kristy Beauvais texted her about the fire at her home. Beauvais said the house was fine and that she had gone inside and had the family dog, Biscuit, with her.

“I was just paying for my groceries,” Williams said, “and made a beeline home because I didn’t know what I would find.” She was grateful that her house was untouched by the fire and the fire was under control. Somewhat in shock, she watched as firefighters and road crews did their job.

The following Monday, January 20, The Williams, their three children and friends Sadie and Jackie Radinsky spent the day baking Whoopie Pies and delivered them to Station 69 to thank them for their efforts. Jill said the crew gave them all a tour of the fire station and let the kids climb into the fire engine.

The fire burned only a half-acre, but it could have been worse. Fire officials are urging people to be extremely cautious because of the winds and tinder dry conditions. Around 3 p.m. that same day, a 10-acre brush fire broke out along Pacific Coast Highway between Temescal Canyon Road and Chautauqua Blvd., threatening homes above and jamming traffic until the following morning.

The Ericksons and Super Scoopers, already in the air, helped contain that fire as well. Phone, internet and TV service was out for much of the Old Topanga and Skyline area until the following day. Edison topped some of the burned cypress trees to clear the wires and worked well into the night.

Cable companies, among them Verizon and Charter were on the scene and made their repairs once Edison gave them the go-ahead. Susan Nissman, Senior Deputy to Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, monitored the situation from the Incident Command Center stationed at View Ridge and Topanga Canyon Boulevard.

“When you hear ‘fire on Old Canyon,’” Nissman said, “for those of us who experienced it, you can’t help but think about the fire of 1993.” That was a devastating, wind-driven fire that started on the Old Canyon side of Summit to Summit, burned through Red Rock, down to the beach in Malibu and jumped back into Topanga.

“We didn’t have the resources then that we have now,” Nissman said. “We’ didn’t have T-CEP (Topanga Coalition for Emergency Preparedness) then. The quick mobilization you saw on January 14 was due to preparing ahead and augmenting resources for Red Flag days. Fortunately, the Board of Supervisors extended the lease for Super Scoopers this year. We didn’t have that back in ’93.

“There are some standard things that are really working now,” she said. “It’s good to see the [North Topanga Canyon] Fire Safe Council (NTCFSC) grow and to see the different public agencies working with local communities and the fire department that is such a tight operation with good resources.

“Every fire is different and we learn so much from every incident,” she said. “It keeps you humble. And prepared.”

DO YOUR PART

PHOTO BY D.J. NELLIS 2014

Red Rock Fire Threatens Canyon!

A crew of Los Angeles County Firefighters prepare to battle flames at the corner of Old Topanga Canyon Road at Red Rock Road on Jan. 14.

Everyone who chooses to live in Topanga Canyon, which is designated as a very high fire area, should never be cavalier about being prepared for emergency situations that are guaranteed to happen. We’ve had them all—fire, flood and earthquakes. All residents should learn about the resources available to them here that we didn’t have in the 1993 fire or the 1994 earthquake.

Mark Your Calendar—on April 26, Los Angeles County will hold its annual Preparedness and Response drill. It is an interactive experience that requires your attention and time if you care about protecting your community, your neighborhood, your home and family.

Do Your Homework—Meanwhile, go online and study the Survival Guide and Workbook (OneTopanga.com).

PHOTO BY JIM SMITH 2014

Red Rock Fire Threatens Canyon!

Flames at the corner of Old Topanga Canyon Road and Red Rock Road were caused by downed power lines blowing into the stand of Italian cypress trees during a hot and windy on Tuesday, Jan. 14.

Set up a Neighborhood Network. Learn from the North Topanga Canyon Fire Safe Council (ntcfsc.org) about creating defensible space to protect your home and become “ember-aware.” Join T-CEP, CERT, Arson Watch, the Topanga Town Council or any number of organizations whose volunteers give their time and energy to keep us all informed and safe.