A few days before the triple-digit heat wave hit on Friday, July 6, ten Camp Crews—women inmates from Camp 13, male inmates from Camp 7, and a firefighting crew from Camp 8—spread out along the hillsides of Fire Base 69 Bravo, the heliport perched high above Topanga, to weed whack, cut and chip chaparral.
As of February 1, 2018, 69 Bravo’s ownership was transferred to LA County Fire Department (LACoFD), when county officials and property owner, Simon T, signed the agreement and turned the facility that he built over to County Fire.
Battalion Chiefs Drew Smith and Anthony Williams were there to oversee the operation. Between them, are decades of institutional memory and experience in some of California’s worst wildfires. They are a Dream Team if ever there was one.
Smith is a highly respected Fire Behavior Analyst. With the fire department since 1988, he has seen the science of fire suppression and understanding of fire behavior evolve exponentially in that time, all the while progressively participating in the dissemination of this essential information nationwide.
LACoFD Assistant Fire Chief Williams, familiar to those of us who cover fires when he is often Incident Commander, and Topanga Town Council meetings, which he often attends. He has enough in his job description to keep a dozen people employed but which he carries out and still finds time to interact with the community.
Battalion 5 covers the Santa Monica Mountains area including the cities of Agoura Hills, Calabasas, Hidden Hills, Malibu and Westlake Village; the communities of Topanga, Piuma, and Lechuza. It is one of the most dynamic Operations Divisions within the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
That Tuesday morning, Smith and Williams spoke to the Messenger Mountain News and a small group of local representatives from Topanga Town Council, Arson Watch, and Supervisor Sheila Kuehl’s office, about plans for the property, starting with land management.
“We want this to be a model for Santa Monica Mountains restoration for wildlife and fire management, providing good defensible space and a fuel management plan.”
While Smith’s land management plan hasn’t put pen to paper yet, everything installed at 69 Bravo—two helipads for sheriffs and fire department, three pumpkins (10,000-gallon reservoirs for fire-dropping helicopters), and a “control center,” a building with 360-degree cameras, WiFi, and communications equipment—can be put to use immediately, should an emergency occur.
“We can use 69B for Incident Command post, Medevac, and in case of a fire, it may be the only place for residents nearby to evacuate to a safe zone,” Smith said. “That would be better than having them add to traffic evacuating out of the canyon.”
With cooler weather predicted, we may have dodged a major bullet…for now…and while we can be grateful for 69 Bravo, we need to stay alert and be prepared, starting by volunteering with Arson Watch (arsonwatch.com) and Topanga Coalition for Emergency Preparedness (TCEP.org).