Waveview residents create a new Fire Safe Council for Post Office Tract.
With a magnificent view of the Pacific Ocean from Waveview Drive, it was hard to imagine a wildfire blazing through the verdant green hills and oak tree canopy. Yet, the threat is very real because the entire neighborhood backs up to Topanga State Park and has only one road in and out.
If a fire were to start in the Entrada area, the chances of survival are very slim considering a wind-driven fire travels about two miles per hour, and if you wait until the last minute to leave, it could take more than five hours to evacuate from the Canyon.
With only a steep, one-lane road providing entrance and egresss, a fire commander might think twice before sending his team up there. Once there, it is difficult to read obscure, hand-made address signs, know which houses have pools, or the location of water tanks and underground fire hydrants. And if the phones went out or the radio frequencies became clogged, how would you know what was going on?
Which is why about 30 concerned neighbors gathered at the home of Teal Brogden and Jim Schram on a bright and breezy Sunday afternoon to organize a Fire Safe Council.
PHOTOS BY ANNEMARIE DONKIN
Dave Winter passes out information cards at the first Post Office Tract Fire Safe Council meeting to help organize the residents who gathered on November 15 at the home of Teal Brogden and Jim Schram on Waveview.
Were looking for resources that can help with the evolution of a plan to protect the Post Office Tract from wildfire, said Dave Winter, who with Teal, organized the November 15 meeting.
Winter said the question now is one of personal responsibility in the face of an emergency. If you are not able to leave the Canyon in two hours, we will have to pay attention to what is going on with the Canyon Emergency Response Team (CERT) and if I can trust that person, my survival literally depends on them and on my neighbors knowledge; every community needs to start thinking this way.
Our goal is to get as many people to move safely from their homes down to Topanga Canyon, Teal Brogden said. But we never know what might be happening on the road, so we need to become more self sufficient, more able to survive on our own.
Winter said the goal of the meeting was twofoldto create an effective Fire Safe Council that can be prepared for emergencies and also apply for state and federal grants to mitigate fire hazards, such as thinning dangerous trees.
Sundays meeting was an extension of a series of community meetings held throughout October organized and endorsed by T-CEP, the County of Los Angeles Fire Department, National Park Service and the Fire Safe Council to implement an effective wildfire protection plan for the approximately 100,000 acres of the Santa Monica Mountains.
We need all kinds of help, from people [willing to give] two hours which they can devote to a specific project, Winter said. Ask yourself what you can do quickly, easily and that can have the greatest impact on the safety of our neighborhood.
To start the process, Winter handed out survey cards to elicit the information to begin a Fire Safety Council, including such basics as exchanging contact numbers and e-mails.
We need to band together and become a community to put the fear of fire in the residents, said Rebecca Goldfarb, a T-CEP neighborhood network team leader, a community organizer and president of the Town Council. You need to take a step beyond the efforts of T-CEP and take matters into your own hands, she said.
Roz Harris (left) and Toni Colvin work on a map of the Post Office Tract to identify resources and hazards with stickers. Harris volunteered to work the phones and Colvin will act as secretary to take minutes at their Fire Safety Council meetings.
Goldfarb said it was critical that residents identify resources that can help firefighters, such as marking the location of swimming pools, water tanks and underground fire hydrants in their neighborhood.
She had a long list of suggestions, including placing more visible address signs in front of your house, which also helps during 911 emergency calls.
Goldfarb emphasized that a high level of neighborhood cooperation in terms of in kind hours working on safety planning and mitigation will go a long way to gaining access to government money for things such as tree trimming and heavy brush clearance.
Theres a lot of money out there, said Katie Zieman, Affiliation Manager for the California Fire Safe Council, who was on hand to provide information on applying for grants and forming a workable Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP).
She urged them to create a workable plan by the March 2010 deadline to apply for more than $30 million in federal and state grant money, including from, among others, the Department of Fish and Game, the National Park Service, the Forest Service and Department of the Interior.
Tract map of the Entrada area where residents marked the location of swimming pools and non-native trees that might present a fire threat.
Julie Clark De Blasio, Santa Monica Mountains Project Partner and Community Liaison for the Mountains Restoration Trust, explained what a Fire Safe plan means in practical terms for residents: identify the risks, hazards and assets (water tanks, swimming pools) in their neighborhoods, coordinate communication, create evacuation plans and decide what projects would qualify for federal grant money, such as brush clearance and removal of non-native trees.
J. Lopez, Deputy Forester, L.A. County Fire Department showed the group how to create defensible space around their homes and neighborhood.
Start a small neighborhood group, because only you know the traffic pattern in here, or the pesky neighbor who wont clear his brush, he said. Embers can fly up to three miles away; homes that are not prepared properly are at risk. We lose more homes from embers than from flames; you cant stop fire, but you can manage its direction and slow it down.
Lopez showed examples of what everyone can do right now to make their homes safer. He held up examples of fire- safe vents that break up embers by restricting airflow; intumescent paint that stops fire; tempered glass windows; fire proof deck materials, etc. Information on the materials can be found at www.firesafecouncil.org.
Use the new science and technology to protect your homes, Lopez urged. By the time we see flames, the fire is already underneath your roof.
Call for Volunteers
After the presentations, Goldfarb called for volunteers to fill key roles in the Fire Safe Council.
You are not breaking the waves here, Winter said. We are here to come [before] you and guide the way.
Winter and Brogden agreed to continue on as co-leaders of the Fire Safe Council Post Office Tract Group to coordinate with state and county agencies.
Toni Colvin volunteered as secretary to take meeting notes and send them via e-mail. Glennis Waterman volunteered to be responsible for general e-mails and photography and Roz Harris will manage the phones.
Seth Hill and Megan Williams volunteered to handle grant writing and Tina Boivin will get quotes from tree trimmers. Chris Waterman volunteered to do general marketing and written communications and Williams offered to hold more meetings at her house.
Goldfarb also urged the neighbors to attend CERT training, join Arson Watch, train with T-CEP and learn to operate a HAM radio.
Lydia Frank, who has lived in the Canyon since 1948 said she would be delighted to get a HAM license on behalf of the community.
It is something I have always wanted to do, said Frank.
Dave Winter reported that after the November 15 Fire Safe meeting and some contact with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, they are already seeing results.
Perhaps the best expression of our success in creating a single voice for the Post Office Tract is that when a couple of members sent Teal and me e-mails, we got the Fire Department to look into a situation on Lower Encina where a tree is dangerously close to power lines, Winter said.
No doubt they responded to the attached photo that we were able to send along, but I'm really impressed with how quickly J [Lopez] got various levels of the Department to respond to our call-out.
This prompted Winter and Brogden to continue organizing the F