By Mary O’KEEFE
Neighbors and friends in the Canyonside area of La Crescenta spent four hours on Saturday pulling weeds, cutting trees and making their neighborhood safer.
A clean-up day sponsored by the Crescenta Valley Fire Safe Council was as much about education as it was the clearing of dry vegetation that would give fuel to a wildfire.
“It is a neighborhood working together. [They] understand the real need they have up here. We are no longer preaching to them, the residents are now searching for information,” said Roger Young, president of the Fire Safe Council.
In March 2009 Young joined resident, now CV Town Council member, Kim Mattersteig for a fire information meeting for the Briggs Terrace area. It was held at the Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station and the room was full of concerned residents. At that meeting Young stood up and spoke of the newly formed council. Since then he has become an information filter between sheriff and fire personnel and the community.
“When we started [the council] we were going after a grant. We didn’t get it,” he added.
But not getting the grant did not stop Young and the Fire Safe Council members from moving forward to be proactive against a wildfire they were certain was in their future. On Aug. 1, 2009 they, along with Mattersteig, organized an evacuation drill for the Briggs Terrace residents. Twenty-five days later the Station Fire ignited.
“We work neighbor with neighbor before, during and now after the fire [and flood],” he added.
Saturday was an example of that type of proactive work.
“This is knowledge that is now being embedded in the community,” said J. Lopez, deputy forester for the Los Angeles County Fire Department. “It is about maintenance. Just because you clean it once doesn’t mean you are done.”
Alan Denison from Gothic Grounds Management Inc. was there directing residents on what to get rid of and what to keep.
“We don’t want complete deforestation,” Denison said. He and several of his workers volunteered their time to help the residents. “We work with J. [Lopez], the fire department and several fire safe councils.”
Judy Turner, Fire Safe Council member, was instrumental in organizing the clean-up day, Young said.
Allied Waste donated a large bin for the yard waste. Turner said when she first saw the size of the container she thought they would have trouble filling it, but after two hours of work the bin was full.
“They will just smash it down and fill it again,” Lopez said.
“This is hard work,” Turner said. “But I think the fact that we can actually do it is amazing.”
Turner is well acquainted with her neighbors and checked in with them during Saturday’s clean up.
“This couple moved in only three weeks before the fire,” she said as she walked over to a man and woman raking a front yard.
Dan and Jennie Eccles had been living in Los Angeles when they bought their home on Canyonside Drive. They were evacuated and the fire came close but did not damage their home. They were also lucky during the flood.
“At first we saw large rocks coming down but then it was mostly water,” Dan said. “We did pretty well during the flooding. It was the other side of the canyon that was really bad.”
The couple spent the day trimming the low-lying tree branches that hung on their roof.
Young said this type of clean up event not only helps residents prepare for fire but also other emergencies like earthquakes.
Young also stressed the importance of neighbors knowing – and helping – neighbors. “They all know each other now,” he said.
They also know how important it is to be prepared. They have seen firsthand how dangerous wildfires can be.
“It’s changing our behavior,” Lopez said. “[We now] look at our homes in a different way.” copy