John D. Weaver recalled the night in 1936 when his date told of her dream to live on a mountaintop and look at the lights of a great city.
The couple eventually married, and in 1948, Harriett S. Weaver’s dream came true when she and her husband moved into a hillside home above the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles.
But the devastating Bel-Air fire of 1961, which destroyed 475 homes, convinced Weaver that living in the hills could also be a nightmare. So from the mid-1960s until her death in November, Weaver fought for fire-safety laws in hillside communities. Her crusade resulted in a city brush-clearing ordinance that fire officials credit with saving hundreds of homes.
On Thursday, her husband, officials, friends and other relatives gathered at a mountaintop fire station to remember Weaver, who was 75 when she died of cancer.
“There is an old adage that goes, ‘you can’t fight City Hall,’ but Harriett Weaver did fight City Hall and did win,” said Jerry Fields, past president of the city Board of Fire Commissioners. “In doing it, she showed us a better way to protect the hillsides of our city.”
Revised in 1978
Others who spoke at the memorial service at the fire station on Mulholland Drive said Weaver’s tenacity paid off when officials, who were initially skeptical of the idea, adopted the brush-clearing ordinance in 1968.
The law, revised in 1978, requires owners of 120,000 parcels in the city to annually clear all brush within 100 feet of structures. Los Angeles Fire Marshal Craig G. Drummond said that 95% of parcel owners comply with the law.
Had it not been for Weaver’s efforts, said Fire Department Chief Engineer Donald O. Manning, hundreds of homes might be lost each year in Los Angeles-area brush fires. Instead, a fire that once might have claimed 500 homes destroys fewer than 20.
“All of those people living in their homes . . . that probably don’t even know of Harriett Weaver have her to thank because she was a crusader,” Manning said.
Weaver, diagnosed with melanoma in 1967, was as persistent in her will to live as she was in her fight for fire safety, Fields said.
“This special woman had an inordinate amount of courage, fortitude and just plain guts,” he said.