Residents rush to clear brush

Janet Blake said the worst moment of the Station fire came days after the blaze blackened the hills above her home on Upper Canyonside Road in La Crescenta.

"What was most horrifying was to hear, 'Ma'am, you have to get ready for the mudflow," Blake said.

Blake and her neighbors have been getting ready ever since. On Saturday, the Upper Canyonside Community Assn. and Crescenta Valley Fire Safe Council teamed up for a morning of clearing brush and reducing the risk of fire and flood danger.

The morning began with a moment of silence for Arnie Quinones and Tedmund Hall, the firefighters who died battling the fire that scorched 160,000 acres last summer. Then residents and helpers from La Crescenta Boy Scout Troop 288 and Gothic Grounds Management — fortified with baked goods and coffee from local merchants — hauled brush and clippings to a Dumpster.

Roger Young, with the Crescenta Valley Fire Safe Council, offered tips on how to harden a home against fire. "With over 50% of the homes that catch fire, the fire isn't caused by the flame front as it comes through," Young told a group of about three dozen people. "It is the embers."

He and Los Angeles County Fire Department forester J. Lopez demonstrated tools and techniques for keeping gutters clear of pine needles and vents clear of embers. Young told residents wielding clippers to "limb up and lollipop," clearing low branches and foliage from bushes and trees to reduce fire fuel.

La Crescenta resident Don Ross, who created a "Prevacuation Guide" for La Crescenta residents, was there to help out. His tip sheet addresses what to do before a fire and when to do it, suggesting everything from making sure your home address is visible from the street to preparing a "grab-and-go" bag in case of evacuation.

"If you've moved into this valley, you should be looking at these things and doing these things," Ross said.

Upper Canyonside residents said Saturday's event was as much about raising consciousness as reducing hazards.

Harry Swope pointed out the neighborhood began to mobilize even before the Station fire, holding an evacuation drill and monthly meetings. "This is a community project. Also, hopefully it is an inspiration to other communities," Swope said. "Because we as a community organized ourselves, did work ourselves and solicited the help of county agencies, we made our neighborhood safer."

Young has helped the community association apply for a state grant for fire prevention. While the money hasn't come through, neighbors are forging ahead, planning a project to more effectively divert water from the hills above them to the creek below and identifying a priority list of areas in which to clear brush.

Young said the lesson of the day boiled down to preparation. "Anything can burn; anything can be saved," he said.

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