27-EASE Project

As a result of the Santa Monica Mountains Community Wildfire Protection Plan , the North Topanga Canyon Fire Safe Council (NTCFSC) was formed to address long-term solutions to reduce the vulnerability of wildfire to Topanga. We are residents of the canyon, and do this work as volunteers. While there are many areas in the West that are at risk for wildfire, what makes Topanga especially dangerous is the fact that Topanga Canyon Boulevard is the only 2-lane road in and out of the canyon for approximately 8000 residents, in an area that hasn't burned for over 50 years. (Click here for an interactive map of fire history from 1900 to 2003.)  In a fast-moving wind-driven fire (such as the Oakland Hills fire in 1991) this means that the road must be clear of as many potential obstructions as possible to allow residents to evacuate and to allow emergency responders to enter. This point was driven home to us by the L.A. County Fire Dept. officials we spoke with who are concerned about egress/ingress along TCB. 

Our work follows the recommendations of the  Community Wildfire Protection Plan: Community Fire Safety Action Plan-Topanga  which put safe egress/ingress as a top priority. After a several public meetings and an extensive interagency process, the final plan was signed by the Chief of the the Ventura County Fire Department, the Chief of the Los Angeles County Fire Department, the Los Angeles County Supervisor for the 3rd District and the Ventura County Supervisor for the 2nd District. 

We got to work on implementing the recommendations of the plan to remove hazardous vegetation that might impede traffic in a wind-driven fire.  We identified every possible instance of hazardous vegetation along Topanga Canyon Boulevard from Top of Topanga to the north, to Topanga Lumber to the south. Once we had that list, we consulted with J. Lopez, the Assistant Chief of the Forestry Division of the Los Angeles Count Fire Department to narrow it down to the items of most concern. We then spoke with people who owned the properties where this vegetation was located.

Our grant, awarded by the California Fire Safe Council provided limited funds to help those property owners on Topanga Canyon Boulevard remove hazardous vegetation.  We worked with property owners, one on one, to explain that there is assistance available –if they so choose. The program was entirely voluntary. Most were happy to use the grant funds to make the roadway safer. Some choose not to. We respected every property owners decision.    

Southern California Edison also increased their efforts to remove vegetation that is at risk of striking power lines and starting a fire. After several fires were started by wind-blown vegetation striking power lines in 2007, a new State mandate (referenced here) was created for stricter clearance around power lines, and removing nearby hazardous vegetation. Southern California Edison are doing a lot more work to reduce the risk of a fire caused by vegetation striking power lines.

To be clear, our goal is for Topanga to learn the lessons from fires like Oakland Hills, apply best practices in fire science and become a more  Fire Adapted Community. We are committed to educating residents about taking proactive steps to ensure that our homes are less vulnerable to wildfire. The safer every home is, the safer the neighborhood is, as fire spreads rapidly from home to home. These practices be all the more important in the coming years, as the climate is predicted to more conducive to wildfire in the future.

We want to thank the property owners on Topanga Canyon Boulevard for helping to lead the way to create a sustainable future for our homes, our families, and our natural environment here in Topanga. Topanga Canyon Boulevard is now safer!

With follow-on grants we are working along the main feeder roads into the neighborhoods in our North Topanga Canyon area, to make it safer for residents to evacuate and for first-responders to enter.

Comments