September 2, 2014

Part 1: The Hard Realities of Life in Paradise: Surviving a Wildfire!

 

BE AWARE, BE PREPARED

PHOTO BY DAVE LYNCH

Part 1: The Hard Realities of Life in Paradise: Surviving a Wildfire!

A low-flying Canadian Super Scooper, approaching from the north over Summit to Summit, dropped its load of water and fire suppressant on several spot fires that crept into the hills above the fire’s point of originat the corner of Red Rock and Old Topanga Canyon Road on Tuesday, Jan. 14.

With the fire in Old Canyon on January 14 still fresh in everyone’s mind, it's a good time to assess your fire and general emergency preparedness.

Topanga's geographical location in a beautiful steep-walled canyon that follows a north-south path from the San Fernando Valley to the Pacific Ocean, makes it classic Southern California fire country, with at least one major wildfire in each decade of the past 80 years. As everyone who has lived here any length of time knows, it's not "if" but "when" another fire will strike. These fires, known as "wildfires," can move at tremendous speeds, up to 40 miles in a single day, consuming up to 1,000 acres per hour and reaching temperatures of 2,500 degrees F. Because of these circumstances it is best to be prepared well in advance so that risk to loss of life and property destruction is minimized. To give fire fighters and first responders the best opportunity to defend our property, there are actions we can all take.

Harden Your Home—First, harden your home, which means take steps to make your home less likely to ignite. Being "ember-aware" is a term that is important to understand. The strong winds blow embers through the air in advance of flames—as in the case of the cypress trees on January 14— and can ignite homes before the actual fire arrives. Home ignitions are a major reason that fires in our wildland-urban interface (WUI) spread so quickly and are so dangerous. Studies have shown ­that unprotected homes can burn first and then set other homes and the surrounding vegetation on fire.

Create Defensible Space—Some strategies to implement can be as simple as maintaining a defensible space around our homes and structures. This can be either man-made as in using gravel or pavers, or natural landscaping where vegetation is modified by using fire-resistant plants such as succulents and maintained to slow the rate and intensity of an advancing fire. Attic and crawl space vents should be covered with one-eighth inch wire mesh. The builder’s standard one-quarter-inch mesh found on most homes will not stop embers.

PHOTO BY JOHN SIPPLE © 2014

Part 1: The Hard Realities of Life in Paradise: Surviving a Wildfire!

Left to right On Call Firefighter Ken Widen, Station 69, Captain Jeff Audet, Station 69, and Louie Gonzales, Firefighter Specialist, Station 170-B were on duty at the fire on Old Topanga Canyon Road and Red Rock Road on January 14.

Free Home Assessments—The North Topanga Fire Safe Council (NTCFSC) has been leading the charge in helping homeowners improve their home's ability to survive a wild fire. They have trained assessors who perform free “Home Ignition Zone” assessments to provide homeowners with action steps. Visit their website at ntcfsc.org for more information and downloadable "how-to" brochures.

Evacuation Plan—Next, create an emergency evacuation plan. If evacuation becomes necessary,

PHOTO BY CHRIS HARZ © 2014

Part 1: The Hard Realities of Life in Paradise: Surviving a Wildfire!

A large Erickson water-dropping helicopter extinguished flames at the scene of the fire and continued to saturate the surrounding area throughout the afternoon.

it is paramount that each household have a plan that includes several escape routes, a meeting location and communication options. Practicing the escape plan will help reduce the chaos that inevitably occurs during an evacuation. The “Topanga Disaster Survival Guide” has guidelines and worksheets to assist in this. It can be downloaded at TopangaSurvival.org.

Plan for Your Animals—If you have animals, they should be included in the plan. Ali Acker, a lifelong Topanga resident, is a founding member of the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care & Control Equine Response Team (LACDACCERT).

She and Mary Lukins are available to educate large animal owners about their responsibilities during a disaster.

Contact the LA County Animal Care Center in Agoura for more information, (818) 991-0071, or Ali at (310) 455-3029.

Know Where to Go for Information—Finally, know how to get information. In any emergency, knowing what’s happening can help you stay calm and make the best decisions. A good start is to “Like” T-CEP’s Facebook page (TCEP90290) and follow T-CEP on Twitter (@TCEP90290). T-CEP volunteers do their best to post updates on emergency situations. The T-CEP Hotline number is (310) 455-3000.

Many Topangans learned of the Old Canyon fire through T-CEP Facebook updates. Forming a Neighborhood Network and sharing information with neighbors is another way to get information. For details, e-mail nn@t-cep.org.

Want to be among the first to learn of an emergency? Become a T-CEP volunteer!

LOCAL RESOURCES

[[ firetrucks_lookingnorth_djnellis.jpg]]Being fire safe in Topanga benefits everyone. We all have a role to play in mitigating the hazards of living in this beautiful community. Be familiar with or become a member of these emergency organizations that operate in the Canyon:

• American Red Cross-Topanga

• Arson Watch

• Topanga CERT (Community Emergency Response Team)

• T-CEP Disaster Radio Team (DRT)

• North Topanga Canyon Fire Safe Council

• T-CEP Neighborhood Network

• Topanga Animal Rescue

• Topanga Coalition for Emergency Preparedness (T-CEP)

To contact these organizations, go to OneTopanga.com and click on "Emergency Info" in the left menu.