June 4, 2020

North Topanga Canyon Fire Safe Council Progress Report

 

PHOTO COURTESY OF THE NTCFSC

North Topanga Canyon Fire Safe Council Progress Report

The large tree on Topanga Canyon Blvd. at Hillside that presented a significant fire hazard before its removal.

Wildfire is a fact of life in the Santa Monica Mountains. The bad news is that it’s only a matter of time before it returns to Topanga. The good news is that by implementing recent advances in fire science, Topanga can become a more Fire- Adapted Community. A Fire-Adapted Community takes responsibility for its wildfire risk long before a fire threatens and takes actions to lessen the risk. The more actions a community takes, the more fire-adapted it becomes.

Since being formed in 2010, The North Topanga Canyon Fire Safe Council (NTCFSC) has worked with the community to make significant progress in pre-fire mitigation. Here are some highlights:

FUNDING—In 2012 the NTCFSC was awarded an $81,850 grant, funding that was provided by a National Fire Plan Grant from the Cooperative Fire Programs of the U.S. Forest Service, Department of Agriculture, Pacific Southwest Region through the California Fire Safe Council.

In 2013, the NTCFSC received an $88,000 grant from the National Park Service, and in 2014 another $92,000 grant through the U.S. Forest Service Program and the California Fire Safe Council. The grant approval process is highly competitive. We are grateful that those responsible for disbursing these limited funds have recognized the need for pre-fire mitigation in Topanga and put their trust in the NTCFSC to administer these grants responsibly.

GREATER HOME AND BUSINESS SAFETY—The funding has allowed NTCFSC to offer several programs to the community. The NTCFSC has trained teams of community volunteers to identify potential fire risks and offers home and business owners a free, personalized Home Ignition Zone evaluation. NTCFSC’s volunteer evaluators have looked at more than 70 properties, providing practical advice on reducing the risk of wildfire to these homes and businesses. The surprising thing is that many of the “fixes” involve little or no cost. Simply removing debris in rain gutters and around the house can make a difference! The goal is to prevent your structure from being fuel for a fire to make your neighborhood safer. This program is available to all Topangans. If you are interested, email firesafe@ntcfsc.org.

COMMUNITY EDUCATION—The NTCFSC organized a videotaped four-part Lecture Series (in association with The Topanga Coalition for Emergency Preparedness (T-CEP) and the Topanga Branch of the Los Angeles County Public Library).

The series was designed to educate residents about wildfire behavior, wildfire history, and steps that can be taken to mitigate the risk to Topanga.

Speakers included Dr. Robert Taylor and Fire Specialist Kathryn Kirkpatrick from the National Park Service, Dr. Stephen Quarles from the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, Dr. Sabrina Drill from the University of California Cooperative Extension, Assistant Chief Forester J. Lopez from the Los Angeles County Fire Department, ISI Certified Arborist Willian Hallet from Southern California Edison and Grant Manager Katie Martel from the California Fire Safe Council. Their sharing of insights gained from years of experience in the area of fire science has given Topanga, and other Santa Monica Mountain communities, a valuable resource to draw upon. The videos are available online at ntcfsc.org.

SAFER ROADWAYS—Topanga Canyon Blvd, Topanga School Road, the Topanga Community Club driveway, Entrada Road and Colina Road are now safer. More than 40 property owners, utilizing NTCFSC grant funds, have removed hazardous vegetation making it safer for residents to exit the canyon and for responders to enter in a fire event.

All this work was done on a voluntary basis with the consent of property owners. The NTCFSC thanks the Los Angeles County Fire Department Forestry Division for helping to identify hazardous trees along the roadside that could be an ignition source if contacted by power lines, or fall and block the street, or present a high risk of fire on or near the roadway.

We are happy to report that the more fire-tolerant Coast Live Oaks that were underneath most of the removed trees are now thriving.

At the Topanga Community Club, we partnered with the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains, The L.A. County Fire Department, the Watersheds Stewards Project and the Topanga Wildlife Youth Project and had a successful oak replanting.

WHAT’S NEXT?—In the spring of 2015 the NTCFSC will sponsor more educational lectures focusing on strategic vegetation management and hazard mitigation to create fire-tolerant landscaping. With the severe drought impacting the area, the NTCFSC has received many requests from residents who would like to remove dead or dying large-scale hazardous vegetation on their properties. The NTCFSC is continuing to seek funding to assist residents with this hazardous fuel reduction. We are also looking at funding opportunities to assist property owners in replanting with more fire-tolerant vegetation.

THANKS TO THE COMMUNITY—The NTCFSC would like to thank its volunteers, numerous property owners, the U.S. Forest Service, the California Fire Safe Council, the Los Angeles County Fire Department, the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, the National Park Service, the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains, Southern California Edison, Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, T-CEP and other local organizations for working together toward a more Fire Adapted Topanga. With more than $240,000 in matching funds and about 4,000 volunteer hours generated so far, the NTCFSC is thankful for the support of the community.

We also want to acknowledge that it is sad to see any tree removed. It would be great if we didn’t have the threat from wildfire and could just let everything grow everywhere. Unfortunately, we can't. Fire science has proven that the removal of fuel in specific locations will alter fire behavior, making it more likely that a fast-moving wildfire will burn around our homes and roads and not turn into a far more intense fire that could put us all in extreme danger and damage this canyon we cherish for years to come. There have been too many devastating fires in the last hundred years in the Santa Monica Mountains. Fortunately, fire science is now showing us a way to live more responsibly on the land.

THE RESULTS ARE IN—Neighborhoods that employed Fire Adapted principles come out of a fire event far better than unprepared neighborhoods, as evidenced in recent fires in Colorado and throughout the nation. Visit the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network to read inspiring success stories: facnetwork.org.

We don’t need to wait for a fire and its aftermath before we learn the lessons. Topangans are learning how to adapt and are taking steps right now to reduce the risk that wildfire poses to life and property. Like any successful movement, it grows by friends talking to friends and neighbors talking to neighbors.

For more information please visit ntcfsc.org.