June 22, 2018

How Fire-Safe is Your Home?



How Fire-Safe is Your Home?

Topanga homeowners may be too complacent about creating and maintaining an environment that mitigates the ever-present fire danger of our wildland urban interface. An early fire season is predicted to begin around July 13, weeks earlier than usual.

The third lecture on June 12 in the four-part series, sponsored by T-CEP and the Topanga Library, featured Sabrina Drill, Ph.D, Natural Resources Advisor for UC Cooperative Extension in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties, who addressed “Sustainable and Fire-safe (SAFe) Landscapes: Protecting Lives, Property and Habitat.”

Co-presidents of the North Topanga Canyon Fire Safe Council (NTCFSC) Beth Burnam and Ryan Ulyate reminded everyone that the lectures, are an important part of the matching grant they received last year, but more importantly, is meant to help the community become a better fire-adapted community.

About 25 attendees learned the importance of creating defensible space, how to break up fuel ladders, identify fire-resistant plants and appropriately plant and space them.

Dr. Drill narrated a slide show that demonstrated what residents can and should do to protect their property and homes, while preserving the health of our wildland environment.

Following the lecture, Dr. Drill and members of the L.A. County Fire Department, Captain Carrion from Station 69, and J. Lopez of LACOFD, Forestry Division, addressed concerns about brush clearance, the right things to plant (plantright.org) and identifying invasive species of plants.

“Brush clearing doesn’t mean denuding a hillside,” said Captain Carrion from Station 69. “That invites erosion when the rains come. Shrubs and trees hold back the soil and can be placed strategically away from the house to create and maintain an attractive, sustainable and fire-resistant landscape.”

J. Lopez addressed questions about thinning trees, especially oak trees, which need a permit. He referred people to the fire department’s website, fire.lacounty.gov, that provides information on fuel modification and a “Brush Management Plant ID Guide,” among others.

“The Fire department is available to assess tree permitting or pruning and teach you how to do it right.

Then, it takes maintenance, maintenance, maintenance,” he said.


A report, “Predicting Fire Danger in the Santa Monica Mountains,” says above-normal fire danger can be expected in “the southern California mountains.”

Analyzing 59 fires from 1984 to 2005 the report concluded that low moisture levels in vegetation (71 to 77 percent) can predict the intensity of a fire season.

“This year's moisture is in line with some of the worst fire seasons we've had over the last 30 years,” says NTCFSC’s Ulyate. “The forecast says the highest risk fire period will begin July 13 – weeks earlier than usual.”

Another report, “Technique For Predicting California Wildfires Developed,” published in Science 2.0 (science20.com/news/technique_for_predicting_california_wildfire_developed) in April, predicted the wildfires currently burning in New Mexico and Colorado.

“This report validates everything we’ve heard from the experts about our low rainfall this year and its effect on the level of fire danger.

As we head into an early fire season, Ulyate urges everyone “to demonstrate how seriously we need to take all this. Effective fuel modification by homeowners is very important. The time to start is now!”


Living in Topanga means living with the threat of wildfire. Based on the history of wildfire in the Santa Monica Mountains, it’s not a matter of if wildfire will come to Topanga, but when. This reality has led to the creation and funding of the North Topanga Canyon Fire Safe Council (NTCFSC). With education, better planning and preventative action, we can mitigate the risks.

For more information: ntcfsc.org.