Be Ember Aware

At press time, Topanga has been on Red Flag alert for nine days, hoping the Santa Monica Mountains remain untouched in this period of extreme fire danger with near hurricane-force Santa Ana winds feeding the fires around us. As long as the Skirball fire burns, we could be in danger of embers from the site being blown this way. At any time, there could be a new fire start near or in Topanga. Embers are known to travel as far as five miles in high wind.

The Los Angeles County Fire Department estimates that embers, carried by strong winds, fly through the air and rain down on vulnerable homes and cause the ignition of at least 50 percent of homes that burn in wildfires. Once homes ignite, they create intense heat that creates more embers that ignite nearby homes. This turns what would be a fast-moving wildfire into an inferno, putting neighborhoods at risk and making it dangerous for vital first-responders to enter the area. 

If the fires miss us this time, thank your lucky stars but then get pro-active in hardening your home against embers. The best first step to take is to sign up for NTCFSC’s Home Ignition Zone (HIZ) Evaluation where trained team members walk the property with you, indicate where the trouble spots are, answer questions and share what they have learned from evaluating more than 100 Topanga homes.

The people to help you are Beth Burnam and Ryan Ulyate, founders and co-presidents of the North Topanga Canyon Fire Safe Council (NTCFSC) and their dedicated team. They confirm that while it’s not guaranteed your home won’t burn, there is enough evidence that many homes have been saved by simple household and landscaping maintenance.


By taking action long before a wildfire threatens, homeowners can address vulnerabilities. In a presentation on December 4, Burnam and Ulyate showed video clips featuring experts in business and home safety that demonstrated trouble spots that make your home vulnerable. Shot in Topanga, the video demonstrates simple steps to reduce the risk from embers.

“We don’t report any of the information or anything we see to enforcement agencies,” said Ulyate.

“We are simply neighbors trying to help our neighbors,” Burnam added. When asked if new homes have mitigations built in, Ulyate replied that efforts to establish state and county codes “are lagging behind the science. It’s a big, slow churn,” he said.

“New houses may incorporate some of the protections,” said Burnam,” but contractors and developers still aren’t aware of the importance of, or even know what products are available.”

High praise came from someone who does know, Jeanne O’Donnell, CEO of the Office of Emergency Management for LA County, who also co-chairs the Topanga Emergency Management (TEM) Task Force that creates the “Topanga Disaster Survival Guide.”

As the meeting concluded, O’Donnell said, “What you are doing is groundbreaking. I have never seen discussion as in-depth as this; you are the only ones that do this and you are the best volunteers in the county.”


To see videos and to sign up for the HIZ Evaluation:


Flavia Potenza

Flavia Potenza is executive editor of the Messenger Mountain News. She is also a founding member of the 40-year old Topanga Messenger that closed its doors in 2016. She can be reached at

No Comments Yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.