East End Community Meeting Notes
December 17, 2017
The organizers sincerely thank everyone who attended this meeting, together with our generous hosts and our speakers. Below you will find a summary of information collected at the meeting. At the end is a recommendation that emerged from the gathering to form an East End Neighborhood Association, for purposes of safety and communication, together with an invitation to get involved. Please feel free to forward this summary to anyone in the East End who could not attend. We will be glad to link them in.
Chief John McNeil – Ventura County Fire Chief, Division 2 (West County)
Cindy Cantle – Chief of Staff for Steve Bennett, Ventura County Board of Supervisors
Harley Wallace – San Diego Fire Department
Additional Elected Officials in Attendance
Ojai Mayor Johnny Johnston, former CEO of Ventura County
Ojai Unified School Board member Kevin Ruf
The speakers provided the following information, arranged by subject rather than by speaker:
The Thomas Fire originated as two unrelated fires. The first was across the highway from Thomas Aquinas College, and headed toward Ventura. About 45 minutes later, the second fire started on Koenigstein Road in the Upper Ojai. This second fire swept into the Ojai Valley. Causes are under investigation.
As of December 17, the fire covered 269,000 acres. It was at 40% containment. “Containment” means that the perimeter is controlled. When the perimeter can be left, it is considered “controlled.” 400 residential structures had been lost. The three key influences on the pace and growth of this fire were fuel, weather, and topography – all three weighed heavily in favor of the fire and against containment.
The primary goal of the fire fighters is life safety and preventing property loss. The pace of this fire was unprecedented. The fire spread from Santa Paula into Ventura in five hours. The pace impacted the ability of first responders to disseminate timely public communication. Communication was also impacted by certain technology failures such as power lines being down and failures with texting. The traditional model of door-to-door knocking for evacuations is an inefficient model and the assumption was that electronic communications were working. The subject of where communication worked and where it didn’t is a primary topic of post-fire analysis among first responders and at the county.
Impact this Winter
The smoke is here to stay until we have rain. All Ojai Valley arterials are expected to be heavily impacted once rain comes. The short section of Highway 33 at Casitas Springs impacted by the Vista Fire already was going to be problematic for CalTrans. The impact is now exponential, and on all three arterials. ALL OJAI VALLEY RESIDENTS SHOULD BE PREPARED AND READY TO BE SELF-SUFFICIENT FOR A MINIMUM OF ONE WEEK, AS CLOSURES OF ALL INGRESS AND EGRESS ARE EXPECTED.
The following websites for help and information regarding the Thomas Fire:
www.readyventuracounty.org This is the Ventura County website where official communications are posted. Everyone should sign up for VCalert text messaging via this website. This website has an excellent updated map of the current fire perimeter, evacuation information and help in preparing your family for emergencies. You can sign up for email, phone and text alerts here.
www.venturacountyrecovers.org Ventura County Recovers is intended to guide residents through the recovery process, regardless of the size of their loss. It features information on hazardous materials and clean-up as well as rebuilding lost structures. It also gives information on air quality. Anyone who lost their home is encouraged to register on this site and to reach out to Supervisor Steve Bennett’s office directly.
www.vcfd.org This website offers fire alerts and updates, and the “Ready, Set, Go” program. “Ready” requires community participation components such as proper brush clearing and enforcement for violations. “Set” involves gathering intelligence about the fire as residents and first responders prepare for the “Go” during an actual fire.
http://vcfd.org/ready-set-go This website offers a complete handbook for preparing your family for future fires.
www.broadcastify.com Offers a free app for iPhone; full access to the Broadcastify network of over 5,600+ audio streams; find feeds near your location
https://airnow.gov/index.cfm?action=airnow.local_city&cityid=297 This webpage will give current air pollution data for Ojai. It is registered by a monitor located at Fire Station 21 in Ojai.
http://vcfd.org/images/ready-set-go/VCFD-RSG-Wildfire-Action-Plan-Booklet-2016.pdf Here is the VC Fire Department evacuation information.
Recovery Efforts and Assistance
Ojai Location: New Thomas Fire Assistance Center opened in Ojai, 12/18/2017. The center is in a trailer parked next to Ojai City Hall at 401 S. Ventura Street, Ojai, CA. The center will remain open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Friday (12/22/2017); longer if needed. It cannot provide all of the services that the location in Ventura (below) does, but will provide planning and permitting assistance, and other public benefits.
Ventura Location: Poinsettia Pavilion, 3451 Foothill Rd., 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday. Services offered include planning, counselling, permitting, employment development, health, small business loans, social security cards, passports, other vital documents, DMV and Tax Assessor (i.e. reduced property values due to fire) help.
HELP of Ojai: is offering help for people who have lost their homes. They can be contacted at
646-5122. They do not have a list of residences; they can help with rent/mortgage payments, food, supplies and work reduction needs. If you need help, contact the Community Assistance Program (CAP) at 640-3320. Their website is http://helpofojai.org/community-assistance-program-c-a-p/
Anyone with an investment home, guest house, or spare bedroom is encouraged to provide housing for displaced neighbors. Ventura County “HomeShare” program, which screens potential guests. Residents can also help by assisting the county with inspections of potential HomeShare properties – this requires a short, but straightforward, training.
Because of the fire, there are many toxic substances that require removal. The California State Department of Toxic Control is responsible for the oversight – and expense – of this process. This may slow down permitting matters, but Ventura County is working with them to streamline the process.
There is unlikely to be a leaf blower ban in the unincorporated areas of the Ojai Valley because the health department has determined it does not meet the criteria. Residents are strongly encouraged to avoid using leaf blowers during this time.
CERT (Community Emergency Response Team)
Following a major disaster, first responders who provide fire and medical services may not be able to meet the demand for services typically rendered. The local population may have to rely on each other for help to meet their immediate lifesaving, and life sustaining needs. The Community Emergency Response Team is a program that focuses on that preparedness, and its purpose it to train residents to help themselves and help a neighbor. It arose out of the Ojai Valley Wide Discussions headed by Supervisor Bennett, from which our community’s two top priorities were defined by residents as: (1) disaster preparedness; and (2) environmentalism/green/sustainability. 996 people in the Ojai Valley have completed this one-week training. If you’d like to be added to an interest list for future classes, please call 805-658-4717 or email CERT@cityofventura.ca.gov. Michael Weaver, East End resident, has been actively involved in the CERT effort. It is more active in certain neighborhoods in the valley and less active in others. It is up to individual neighborhoods to implement the training and readiness efforts, but the county will assist. There are local emergency training professionals in Ojai, including emergency preparedness and first aid. If you would like more information as to how to contact them, contact Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org. The CERT protocol includes the following components, among others:
readiness assessments, including who has animal kennels; who has a backhoe, who are the vulnerable neighbors who do not drive or may not be ambulatory, etc.
basic firefighting skill
light search and rescue
how to compile an emergency kit
Specific East End Concerns/Issues
Non-local fire crews: Our firefighters in the East End came from other areas, such as San Diego. They did not have code access for locked gates, nor did they know which lanes led to how many houses. Only our local firefighters have this information. It is important to unlock your gate when you evacuate – this is a major issue. Non-Ventura County fire crews do NOT have a universal key to unlock your gates!
Brush Clearing: Was a problem. Keep all brush appropriately cleared as required. Brush and dead tree clearing was not adequate during this fire, as evidenced by fires in these areas.
Address signs: clear address signs, including on remote lanes, are extremely important. Non- local fire crews may not know how many houses are on any given lane/
Evacuation Protocols: See evacuation list at website above. Turn off propane tanks and leave lights on when you evacuate. Be sure to check with neighbors and make sure they know to evacuate.
Obstructions: Whether fire crews will access your property depends on several factors. They include adequate clearing. They also include adequate access. Access roads must be maintained with a minimum 10 foot clearance on each side of the traveled section. Trees and shrubs protruding over the access roadway must be trimmed to a minimum height of 13 feet 6 inches to allow proper access for emergency equipment.
Homeowners Insurance Vehicles/Staff: These look like fire crews, but are not. They are sent to protect insured properties. There is huge value in this in terms of structural protection. It used to be an issue in terms of first responders’ ability to account for all vehicles in an area. Now the insurance equipment is required to check in with first responders. They did not get in the way of the firefighting effort.
A suggestion has been made that a police car with a megaphone navigate the East End when there is a mandatory evacuation in place. Too many people did not receive technological information.
A non-electric landline phone can be useful if the power goes out. It is wise to keep one plugged in.
If you have a Fitbit or similar device, you can set it to alert you during times of potential emergency.
The fire department plans to have pre-determined evacuation grids for our next fire emergency, such as what they have in Montecito and Santa Barbara.
Senior Canyon employees Bobby Abate and Russell Klassen have lost everything, including their homes, in the fire. If you would like to donate to help these employees, please do so. For Bobby, a check can be sent to him c/o Ellen Sklarz, 226 W. Ojai Avenue, #101-317, Ojai 93023. For Russell, a donation can be made on this webpage: https://www.gofundme.com/ojai-fire-victims-devastated.
It was suggested that we create a formal East End Neighborhood Association for better preparedness and communication. Please share ideas about how this can happen. Several who attended the December 17 meeting have volunteered to take leadership roles. A working group will be convened after the first of the year to prepare recommendations on the Association. Anyone wishing to be part of this working group should contact John Broesamle, email@example.com.
Eric Goode, owner of the Turtle Conservancy, has cottages on his property which he is willing to let people who have lost their homes stay in. For information, contact Eric at 917-679-3482.
An emergency email list is being compiled. Those who turned in the “East End Disaster Connection” slip at Sunday’s meeting will be enrolled. If you did not do this and want to be on the list, please email your name, address, email address, phone number and cell phone number to: firstname.lastname@example.org.