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Many Topangans have not lived in the Canyon long enough to remember the fire of November 1993. It burned for 10 days, from the top of Old Topanga Canyon to the coast in Malibu destroying over 300 homes, scorching thousands of acres, and taking the lives of three people. Sound familiar? The 2018 Woolsey fire that swept into Malibu was even worse.
Despite the ever-looming fire dangers, Topanga is well-protected. LA County Fire provides extensive fire fighting capabilities in Topanga including excellent documentation on prevention and evacuation, regular fire drills, and most recently, a state of the art helipad and water facility called 69 Bravo (69bravo.com/about). The extensive network of fireroads throughout the Santa Monica Mountains has been groomed and cleared for access.
The best recourse for what has become a year round fire season is prevention. Topanga, along with Malibu, Calabasas, Agoura, and Chatsworth, has a volunteer organization called ArsonWatch. It is a program under the LA County Sheriff’s Department that consists of local volunteers who patrol throughout the Santa Monica Mountains on Red Flag days. Arson is a threat, but many fires are the result of carelessness. Tossing a cigarette from a vehicle, unsafe brush clearing, use of off road vehicles, or electric power line issues are often to blame. ArsonWatch volunteers are trained in what to spot, how to tactfully deal with the public regarding dangerous behaviors, and how to respond when problems are encountered.
Arson Watch is funded by grants and donations from our local communities, but at its core are its volunteers. ArsonWatch volunteers patrol on Red Flag days (up to a dozen such events per year) with a minimum requirement of only 30 hours per year. Patrols are on designated routes and take anywhere from two to four hours. Volunteer hours count towards maintaining our status as a Firewise Community that saves us all money on fire insurance. If you enjoy our beautiful mountain roads and have some time to support your community please contact ArsonWatch for application details: