October 9th 2017: Wildfires in Northern California Kill at Least 10 and Destroy 1,500 Buildings

posted Oct 9, 2017, 2:22 PM by Ryan Ulyate   [ updated Oct 9, 2017, 5:23 PM ]

From the New York Times "SANTA ROSA, Calif. — Fast-moving wildfires raged across several counties in Northern California on Monday, killing at least one person, forcing the evacuation of up to 20,000 people and destroying hundreds of buildings, the authorities said.Firefighters were battling blazes in eight counties — Napa, Sonoma, Lake, Mendocino, Yuba, Nevada, Calaveras and Butte — officials said. Janet Upton, a deputy director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said that at least 15 fires had destroyed an estimated 1,500 residential and commercial structures and had burned over 73,000 acres since late Sunday night. The damage toll was expected to increase".

A house on fire in Glen Ellen, Calif., on Monday. CreditJim Wilson/The New York Times 
Here's a picture from the fire. Notice how the trees are not burning but the house is. Look at the fire in the ground leading to to the fence and the garage. There is a good chance that this home was set on fire by embers ignitng flammable leaves and vegetation next to the house. Not through a "wall of flames" coming from the trees. We can take action long before a fire threatens to reduce this threat. Now is the time to make our homes less vulnerable to wildfire! Learn how to "Harden" your home Ask for a Home Ignition Zone evaluation

June 2017 NFPA Journal: How can we better protect homes and other structures against wildfire?

posted Jun 7, 2017, 1:50 PM by Ryan Ulyate

An informative article from the June 2017 Newsletter of the National Fire Protection Association.  Here's a key paragraph about the 2016 Fort McMurray fire in Western Canada :

 "...A few months after the fire, Alan Westhaver, a wildfire behavior analyst, published a report for the Toronto-based Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction that reinforced the importance of wildfire prevention and preparedness efforts...

...Westhaver’s report, “Why Some Homes Survived: Learning from the Fort McMurray Wildfire Disaster,” concluded that structure loss in the fire was not random, but instead dependent on homes’ wildfire preparedness as established by guidelines put forth by FireSmart, a Canadian wildfire preparedness program similar to NFPA’s Firewise. According to the report, 81 percent of homes that survived the fire had a FireSmart hazard rating of low to moderate, meaning they were well-prepared for a wildfire, and all of the homes that survived despite extreme exposure to the fire had a low hazard rating. Conversely, most of the homes that were destroyed in the fire had high to extreme FireSmart hazard ratings."

60 Minutes: Why fighting wildfires often fails -- and what to do about it

posted Jun 7, 2017, 1:21 PM by Ryan Ulyate   [ updated Jun 7, 2017, 1:53 PM ]

"More than 100M Americans live in or near forests and grasslands that can erupt in flames. Steve Inskeep reports on fighting wildfires, which cost federal agencies almost $2B last year"

Here's the video segment from the June 4th 2017 episode of 60 Minutes. 

August 2016: NPR: In Wildfires, Big Flames Attract Attention, But Watch Out For The Embers

posted Sep 16, 2016, 3:52 PM by Ryan Ulyate

From NPR's "All Things Considered", August 22nd 2016: "When a fast-moving, erratic wildfire ignites, firefighters right away try to save homes and steer the flames away from life and property. But experts say the real danger often occurs in the hours after the big wall of flames rips through..."

In Topanga the threat is also from embers that fly through the wind before flames arrive. In any case, this is a very good story and points out what we have been talking about regarding the ember threat, and how we can take steps to make our homes less vulnerable. 

Why Prescribed Burns Are A Bad Idea for The Santa Monica Mountains

posted Jun 24, 2016, 4:05 PM by North Topanga Canyon Fire Safe Council

From The National Park Service:

In the last forty years fire managers have promoted the idea that prescribed fire is necessary to protect ecosystems and communities by restoring fire's natural role in the environment to thin forest stands and to reduce hazardous fuels. This is true for western forests where the natural fire regime was frequent, low intensity surface fires started by lightning, and for many other ecosystems like southern longleaf pine forests, Florida palmetto scrub, and the Great Plains tall grass prairies. However, it is not true for the shrubland dominated ecosystems of southern California and the Santa Monica Mountains

To continue reading follow this link:

2016 Old Fire: Luckily the winds calmed down and Topanga was spared.

posted Jun 9, 2016, 6:12 PM by North Topanga Canyon Fire Safe Council

Many of us in the North of Topanga were evacuated on June 4th due to the Old Fire. This video clip from the Los Angeles County Fire Department Facebook page explains how dangerous embers can be in spreading a fire in high winds. Luckily the winds died down and the firefighters were able to contain the fire before it entered north Topanga Canyon (which is where it was headed). This shows how important it is to harden your home against embers well in advance of a fire emergency. You might have to evacuate at a moments notice, and by hardening your home you increase the chances there will be something to return to after the fire!

NTCFSC to Speak at the National Fire Protection Association Conference in Las Vegas, June 15 2016

posted May 4, 2016, 12:52 PM by North Topanga Canyon Fire Safe Council

We're honored to be invited to speak to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) at their 2016 Conference and Expo. One of the things that makes the Home Ignition Zone Evaluation Program unique is that is a resident-based program where trained volunteers from the community have conversations with their neighbors about making their homes and neighborhoods less vulnerable to a wind driven fire. The NFPA, an organization of professionals, is interested in how our citizen-based program works and how it can be replicated in other at-risk communities.

Wed, Jun 15, 2016 - 8:00 AM to 9:00 AM

W09 - Making Homes Less Vulnerable to Wildfire Through Home Ignition Zone Evaluation

Speaker: Ryan Ulyate, North Topanga Canyon Fire Safe Council

Speaker: Beth Burnam, North Topanga Canyon Fire Safe Council

Track: Wildland Fire

Location: Lagoon J

NFPA Section Sponsor: Wildland Fire Management Section


Embers cause the ignition of over 50% of the homes that burn in wildfires. Carried by strong winds, they ignite vulnerable homes, well in advance of the flames. A fast moving wildfire can turn into an urban fire inferno. Long before a wildfire threatens, homeowners can take action to make their homes safer. The presenters will explain what the ember threat is and the Home Ignition Zone Evaluation program, which works by using trained volunteers to visit homes and make specific recommendations to homeowners.

You Can Make Your Home Less Vulnerable To Wildfire! Presentation at Topanga Library June 8th 6:30 pm

posted May 4, 2016, 10:39 AM by North Topanga Canyon Fire Safe Council   [ updated Jun 9, 2016, 5:58 PM ]

You Can Make Your Home Less Vulnerable To Wildfire!

 The North Topanga Canyon Fire Safe Council will present its Home Ignition Zone Evaluation program at the Topanga Library on Wednesday June 8th at 6:30 pm

 The Los Angeles County Fire Department estimates that embers cause the ignition of at least 50% of the homes that burn in 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 more embers that then ignite other nearby homes. This turns what would be a fast-moving wildfire into an urban fire – an inferno, putting neighborhoods at risk, as well as making it dangerous for vital first-responders to enter the area.

 By taking action long before a wildfire threatens, homeowners can make their homes safer by looking from the "house out" and addressing vulnerabilities. In this hour-long presentation North Topanga Canyon Fire Safe Council Co-Presidents Beth Burnam and Ryan Ulyate explain what the ember threat is and how the Home Ignition Zone Evaluation program works by using trained volunteers to visit homes and make specific recommendations to homeowners.

 Members of the Evaluation team will be present to answer questions and share what they have learned in the over 80 Topanga homes evaluated so far.  

 With the current drought and wildfire season arriving months earlier than normal, its all the more important for Topangans to take proactive steps that will make their home, neighborhoods, and the entire community safer.

 We hope to see you there!

 (Please RSVP for the June 8th presentation at )


June 9th 2016

Thanks for everyone that attended! We'll do another one this fall. In the mean time for more information,  the safer homes part 2 video is a good place to start. If you are interested you can request a Home Ignition Zone Evaluation as well. We also have more information about home hardening and the threat from embers on this page

New Online Article: Fighting Fires: You're Doing It Wrong!

posted Aug 23, 2015, 1:37 PM by North Topanga Canyon Fire Safe Council

New research from the US Geological Survey in this great online article: "Chaparral Fire Myths Busted"

The bottom line is that we all need to take steps to "harden" our homes and reduce the possibility that they will ignite in a wildfire. Here are some excerpts from the article..

"...The destruction will only escalate, scientists predict, until we stop fighting fires in the forests and brush. Instead, the focus should shift to securing homes and structures, as well as applying new research that overturns long-standing conventional wisdom about fire defense, experts say.

"We're losing homes in fires because homes are being put into hazardous conditions," said Jon Keeley, a fire ecologist with the U.S Geological Survey (USGS). "The important thing is not to blame it on the fire event, but instead to think about planning and reduce putting people at risk."...

...To really save homes, Fotheringham wants Californians to spend their fall weekends cleaning the nooks and crannies around their homes. Find the fire starters, she said: dryer lint, pine needles and leaves hiding in roof shingles, foundation cracks, decorative shrubs and underneath decks. "I get so fanatic that sometimes I go out and Shop-Vac my yard, trying to get the leaves all up," Fotheringham said.

California law requires all homeowners to clear a "defensible" space. The guidelines call for trimming branches, keeping tall plants and shrubs away from buildings, and spacing remaining trees and bushes to prevent fire from spreading. Some residents scrape a moonscape around their homes, removing all plants and clearing the land to the dirt.

But time after time, in infernos created by Santa Ana winds, thousands of homes with defensible barriers burst into flames. In the July 2006 Sawtooth Fire north of Palm Springs, homes with more than 100 feet (30 m) of bare dirt clearance burst into flames. In fact, the burning homes set their own shrubs and trees on fire. [Raging Western Wildfires in Photos]

That's because clearing land encourages the growth of weeds, "flashy fuels" that easily ignite from embers. Instead of aggressive clearing, a green fire barrier of irrigated, wisely chosen shrubs and trees can help absorb heat and deflect embers, Halsey said. For the most up-to-date advice, visit ..."

How To Keep Trees Alive In The Drought

posted Jun 15, 2015, 12:20 PM by Ryan Ulyate   [ updated Jun 15, 2015, 12:23 PM ]

We all need to use our water more wisely. The Tree People have great info on how to keep the trees that you water alive in the drought. 

1-10 of 50