April 23, 2014

Part 2: The Hard Realities of Life in Paradise: Surviving a Wildfire!

 

MAKE YOUR HOME LESS VULNERABLE TO WILDFIRE

PHOTO BY CHRIS HARZ 2014

Part 2: The Hard Realities of Life in Paradise: Surviving a Wildfire!

After a power line snapped on Old Topanga Road, highly flammable Italian cypress trees in front of a house went up like torches, exploding embers across the street and causing several spot fires up Red Rock Road and into the hills behind.

With record drought in California, 2014 could be one of the most dangerous years for wildfire on record.

The recent, unseasonable fire weather this January and the fire on Old Topanga should serve as a wake-up call for us all.

It’s time to take proactive steps to make our homes and neighborhoods less vulnerable to wildfire. Given our fire history we know that it’s not a matter of if wildfire will come to Topanga, but when.

The bad news is that the Los Angeles County Fire Department estimates that embers caused the ignition of 80 to 90 percent of the homes that burned in recent wildfires. Carried by strong winds, embers fly through the air and rain down on vulnerable homes, well in advance of flames.

Once homes ignite, they create intense heat and embers that can ignite nearby homes. This becomes what would otherwise be a fast-burning wildfire turn into an inferno, putting neighborhoods at risk, as well making it dangerous for vital first-responders to enter the area. The good news is that by taking action long before a wildfire threatens, we can make a difference!

PHOTO BY RYAN ULYATE 2014

Part 2: The Hard Realities of Life in Paradise: Surviving a Wildfire!

Utility crews repair lines after the fire that burned about half an acre but could have started amassive conflagration,were it not for neighborswho pulled out garden hoses until firefighters arrived. Fortunately, the house remained untouched by the fire. The family dog was retrieved by Kristy Beauvais for the day and Topanga Pet Resort offered free boarding for a few days until repair trucks left and the confusion subsided.Utility crews repair lines after the fire that burned about half an acre but could have started amassive conflagration,were it not for neighborswho pulled out garden hoses until firefighters arrived. Fortunately, the house remained untouched by the fire. The family dog was retrieved by Kristy Beauvais for the day and Topanga Pet Resort offered free boarding for a few days until repair trucks left and the confusion subsided.

Our homes can be made safer from embers by looking from the “house out” and addressing vulnerabilities: Is there leaf litter on the roof or in rain gutters that can easily ignite? Are there openings or vents with wire mesh larger than 1/8-inch wide where embers can enter? Is there dry vegetation touching the house, or on the ground in the first five feet around it? Are there certain types of highly flammable vegetation next to the home, such as Italian cypress (as there was at the fire site on January 14)?

PHOTO BY JIM SMITH 2014

Part 2: The Hard Realities of Life in Paradise: Surviving a Wildfire!

Los Angeles County Firefighters and brush-clearing crews moved up Old Topanga Canyon Road and climbed into the hills prepared to cut back brush and extinguish spot fires. An all-female crew kept watch on the mountain top all night.

Further away from the home, are there “fuel ladders” of continuous vegetation from the ground that may carry the fire up into the tree canopy? By taking steps to address vulnerabilities to ember ignition we can “harden” our homes—making neighborhoods safer and increasing the chance that wildfire will pass us by and leave our structures intact.

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PHOTO BY D.J. NELLIS

Part 2: The Hard Realities of Life in Paradise: Surviving a Wildfire!

Responding to the alarm, Los Angeles County and City of Los Angeles Engine Companies and Battalions filled Old Topanga Canyon Road on that Red Flag day. Officials say the fire was caused by a downed power line that sparked and ignited a wooden fence and a stand of Italian cypress trees.

This was proven in the 2012 Waldo Canyon fire in Colorado where homes and neighborhoods that were “ember prepared” fared far better than those that were not. Fire is dependent on three things: weather, terrain and fuel. We can’t change the weather, we can’t and wouldn’t want to change Topanga’s mountainous terrain, but we can change the fuel around our homes.

When we do this, our homes will be safer, our neighborhoods will be safer, our first-responders will be safer and Topanga will be on its way to becoming a Fire Adapted Community.

Now is the time to get started!

For more information on how to be “ember prepared” and for videos of our lecture series on wildfire mitigation, please visit ntcfsc.org.