Letter: Fire Season Preparation

Letter addressed to neighbors in Big Rock

Yes it has been hot, but then it is summer. In the last couple weeks there have been several fires in Rambla and Big Rock. This is a wake up call to all of Eastern Malibu. While LACoFD does a superb job extinguishing these fires when there is no wind, there is little they can do once a fire takes hold during a Santa Ana  wind event.

This is where being prepared makes all the difference, so this letter is a reminder.

First, watch the city’s three fire prep presentations, Sept 22-24.

Second, do you have a plan? Decide in advance when you will evacuate and where you will meet your family, what you will take, and what needs to be done at the house before you go. If you have a plan, it will help you stay calm and make good decisions. Discuss the plan with others in your household.

If a wind event is predicted, there are steps you can take before a fire. Take outdoor cushions inside. Remove any flammable things from around the house. Close windows. Open gates and shut off that breaker. Have cars pointed out (backed in). Maybe even assemble important things you would take if you had to evacuate.

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In the last several major fires that impacted Rambla and Big Rock (2018, 2007), we had hours to prepare, but you cannot count on this. Have three separate printed lists of important items to take should you have five minutes, 30 minutes or hours to prepare.

If you are anywhere in Malibu, in most cases go West toward Oxnard. The coast highway will be jammed going East, and if a fire threatens Topanga, there will be a huge line of cars up the canyon trying to turn onto PCH just like for Woolsey and ‘93. Malibu Canyon or Kanan may still be open. 

Very important to decide in advance at what point you will evacuate. The worst possible scenario is trying to escape a fire about to engulf you and your escape route. Embers can fly several miles ahead of the firefront. Many deaths happen when people in their cars get caught trying to escape on smoke filled roads. 

An accident may mean you’re blocked. If the fire is that close its better to stay in your house or one of the safe refuges around the canyons. But best to leave early and not face this life-and-death decision. 

If your home is prepared in terms of being fire safe, most likely (85%?) the house will still be there after the fire.  This means trimming trees 10 feet from the ground, sealing off vents and crawl spaces, and not having flammable material within 5 feet of the structure.   Get a free NFPA inspection.  Call Jerry at the City (open to everyone in 90265) or call Scott in Rambla, Colin in Big Rock, and Beth or Ryan in Topanga. (contacts below).

Make certain you have enough insurance.  Half of the 465 houses lost in Woolsey were underinsured.  Many can’t afford to rebuild.  As crazy as it seems, the square foot cost to rebuild is $500+. The Fair Plan can now cover up to 3 million.

If you decide to stay, please don’t start watering your home until embers are hitting you. In a Santa Ana wind the moisture evaporates almost instantly and you’ll need the water later. Most homes will survive the actual firefront.  If you stay, prowl around your own house and, if you can, your neighbors’, looking for embers lodged and burning. This is where staying makes all the difference. You often are putting out small fires even hours later.  But with no one there these small fires destroy many houses. Neighbors who stayed during Woolsey were able to save many houses. If you have decided to remain, buy a real mask, goggles, and fire jacket. If you have a pool, buy a fire pump, and lots of 1inch hose. Don’t think of wearing shorts and flip-flops. 

Consider starting a volunteer fire brigade. Several Malibu communities have done this.  We cannot count on LACoFD showing up. Mutual aid seems to be breaking down, brush clearance enforcement is minimal, the controlled burn ordered by Governor Newsom was cancelled by Supervisor Kuehl, and, at least for Woolsey, there was a breakdown in communication and some strike teams were waiting for orders that never came.  

Most of Eastern Malibu burned in 1993 in a devastating fire that burned 300 homes and killed two people (trapped trying to escape at the last minute in their car.) Most of Topanga hasn’t burned in 70 years. We are vulnerable but there is much you can do to prevent spending the next three years trying to rebuild.

Contact info for free NPFA home inspections:

Jerry Vandemulen: (Fire liaison Officer, City of Malibu) 310 456-2489 X 387

Scott Dittrich: (Rambla) 310 456-6504 info@sdfilms.com

Colin Drummond: (BigRockStreetTeams@Gmail.com)

Beth Burnam: North Topanga Canyon Fire Safe Council – firesafe@ntcfsc.org

Ryan Ulyate North Topanga Canyon Fire Safe Council – firesafe@ntcfsc.org

Scott Dittrich

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