Local Leaders Plan Different Wildfire Strategies

By CHRISTIAN MONTERROSA | Reporter

Community leaders in neighboring Mandeville Canyon have planned their second practice evacuation since 2014, banding together with fire officials to practice a neighborhood-wide evacuation on May 19.

On Thursday, May 2, several hundred Mandeville Canyon residents filled the auditorium at Paul Revere Charter Middle school to listen to the latest presentation on wildfire safety and go over the details of the practice drill.

Safety officials from the Los Angeles Fire Department like Chief Armando Hogan, LAPD and Department of Water and Power, to name a few, stated their roles in emergency situations and explained the best course of action for residents to take before a large-scale fire comes roaring in.

For Teri Redman Kahn, a Mandeville Canyon resident and environmental science teacher, it was time to put words into action again and invited fire officials and neighborhood leaders to sit at the same table back in December.

“We live in a five mile long dead end street, no-one is going to save us but us,” she said.

“Anybody who is living up there who isn’t clearing their brush preparing a ‘go bag’ of some sort, and stocking their homes, they’re fools,” Kahn said.

Inspired by the recent Woolsey and Camp fires, Kahn decided to do something about her community who she sees could easily be put in a similar situation and has an ultimate goal of getting city officials to create alternate routes out of the canyon.

“Our problem [in Mandeville Canyon] is this narrow road and so that’s why we’ve practiced,” said John Binder, president of the Upper Mandeville Canyon Association, who helped Kahn plan the  evacuation.

Binder said close to 900 people participated in the 2014 evacuation and is hoping more people, especially the younger residents, participate this time around.

“The middle of the canyon has no cell phone availability at all,” said Binder who cited several challenges that face Mandeville. “If one of those wind driven fires comes, we have to just get the hell out early.”

Similar to Mandeville Canyon, the infamous Palisades Drive holds drivers hostage as cell reception drops for many in the middle of the two mile stretch.

But unlike Mandeville, Palisadian leaders are still trying to figure out the best course of action.

“I am trying really hard to get the Palisades as organized as Topanga and Mandeville apparently are,” said Miriam Schulman, who was appointed the wildfire advisor to the Pacific Palisades Community Council and is the vice president of the Palisair Homeowners Association.

She believes that in the event of a wildfire, many Palisadians could become trapped in their neighborhood and is stressing the hardening of their homes with ignition resistant materials and retrofitted vents.

Schulman has paired up with the North Topanga Canyon Fire Safe Council who will be sponsoring a Home Ignition Zone Evaluation Program, a class on making homes more resistant to wildfires, and is seeking 40 Palisadians to attend, free of charge.

She is expected to present more of the details at the May 23 PPCC meeting.

“My goal is to try to keep houses from burning down,” said Schulman, who believes all of Pacific Palisades needs a plan of action.

Up in the Highlands, the priorities change.

“I’ve actually been in touch with [Teri Redman Kahn] of the Brentwood/Mandeville practice evacuation, and we’ve decided to talk after May 19 so we can see how it goes,” said Steve Cron, Highlands representative for the PPCC when asked for an update on any wildfire safety initiatives.

“I don’t think that the entire Palisades needs a practice evacuation, but I think the Highlands does. I’ve also been in touch again with the LAFD, and they’re also willing to do a practice evacuation in the Highlands.”

But talks about a Palisadian practice evacuation have long been circulating as continuous fuels cover the Palisadian topography that hasn’t burned since 1978. When several teenagers set fire to nearly five acres in May of 2014, fire officials held a community meeting in the Palisades Library and proposed a practice evacuation after Highlands residents illegally used a fire road to get back to their homes.

In January, Chief Hogan and company gave a similar presentation at a PPCC meeting as the one given to Mandeville Canyon residents and promised to work with local leaders to organize a practice.

As the 2019 fire season begins, a comprehensive community plan in Pacific Palisades remains to be seen.