While it’s no secret that Northeast Los Angeles is vulnerable to wildfire, it’s hard to fathom the scale of possible destruction.
New data released in December give a sense of just how devastating wildfire in NELA could be. Consider:
Five NELA communities rank in the top 20 of L.A. neighborhoods with the most buildings in “very severe hazard” fire zones. The ‘NELA 5’ are Eagle Rock, El Sereno, Highland Park, Montecito Heights and Mount Washington.
In Eagle Rock, 4,836 buildings – nearly half of the neighborhood’s houses, businesses and other structures – are in a very severe hazard zone, followed by Highland Park with 4,343 at-risk buildings, or nearly two in five of the neighborhood’s structures. In El Sereno, the number of buildings in a very severe hazard zone – 4,172 – also works out to two in five of the neighborhood’s buildings.
All of Mount Washington’s 4,342 buildings are in a very severe fire hazard area, as are all but a handful of the 3,627 buildings in Montecito Heights.
The figures are part of a data base compiled by the L.A. Times for a story on Dec. 18 on wildfire risk. The story focused on risks statewide and in high-profile, high-vulnerablity neighborhoods like Malibu. The information on NELA was included in the background data that the L.A. Times shared with the public to show how it did its analysis. The L.A. Times noted that the actual number of buildings at risk in each neighborhood is probably higher than it calculated because even detailed lists of existing buildings are not complete.
Ready, Set, Go!
The job of preventing and preparing for wildfire falls largely on individuals, communities and local fire departments, because the state does not have comprehensive laws and procedures for every high-severity hazard zone.
As a first step, every resident should take the advice in Ready, Set, Go!, a wildfire action plan consisting of video and printed materials developed by L.A.’s city and county fire departments. Some of the information may be familiar, such as removing brush and tree limbs that are near your house and keeping roof gutters clear of debris.
But don’t assume you know all you need to know, because procedures change based on fire-fighting experience. In the past, for example, the LAFD and other city agencies suggested that residents await evacuation orders before leaving their homes. The latest information says you should not wait to be told to leave. Go early. If you have followed the instructions in Ready, Set, Go! you have already done what you can to protect your property. By leaving, you give yourself time to get away and give firefighters the room in which to work.
Firefighters also urge residents to resist the all-too-human urge to “stay and defend” their property. According to the Ready, Set, Go! initiative, “stay and defend” may sound good on paper, but is extremely dangerous in real life, because people decide to stay before the fire front arrives and when it does, they can’t get out. Many fatalities in wildfires are the result of people leaving their homes too late.
And don’t assume that preparations you made years ago may still be adequate.
For instance, supplies for an emergency “go-bag” have long included essentials like food and water (for humans and pets), cash, first aid items, a flashlight, extra batteries, a phone charger (that works with your current phone) and a change of clothes. It should also include a list of things you need to take if you need to evacuate. Is that list up-to-date, say, with medications you now take and important documents stored in your home? An up-to-date list ensures you will take what you need – without wasting time to think about whether you have everything.
You can find Ready, Set, Go! information at:
NEIGHBORHOODS AT RISK: The following table summarizes the location and number of buildings in NELA that are located in “very severe hazard” fire zones.
PLANNING IN AN ERA OF MEGA-FIRES
There are many resources in addition to Ready, Set, Go! to prepare for and respond to wildfire. The Boulevard Sentinel asked Mark Mignier-Legassie, a former coordinator for NELA’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) and an author of ForeShock: Your Personal Guide to Disaster Resilience, for advice. Here are some of his tips:
Before a wildfire:
- All residents 18 and older should take training in disaster preparedness, first aid and response skills. To sign up, visit: www.cert-la.com
- Learn about community alerts and warnings, evacuation routes and how to use an AM/FM battery powered radio to get critical information at 1070 AM, 980 AM and 106.7 FM.
- Maintain a defensible zone around your property through regular brush clearing and tree trimming.
- Have your emergency go-bag properly stocked and up-to-date.
During Red Flag alerts (when winds are greater than 25 mph and humidity is less than 15%):
- Park your car heading out and keep your car keys and pet carriers handy.
- Disconnect automatic garage door openers in case of a power failure.
- Secure important records and documents inside the car.
During a wildfire:
Listen to local authorities on radio or tv and if they tell you to leave your home, heed their advice immediately. On the way out, open the drapes and window coverings, close interior doors and windows, turn on the lights, move combustible furniture away from windows and leave a note inside so others know where you planning to go.
ForeShock: Your Personal Guide to Disaster Resilience is available for free by writing to email@example.com
T.A. Hendrickson, a native of Eagle Rock, is the editor of the Boulevard Sentinel and a former member of the Editorial Board of the New York Times.