Sunday, September 30, 2012

Turnbull canyon continues to be a danger zone for Whittier residents

Photo By: Ashley Maui Lopez

As temperatures continue to soar at the end of September, homeowners in the hills are concerned about possible fire threats from dry vegetation across the canyon.

In 1989, residents in the Turnbull canyon area suffered the worst damage from a fire that spread rapidly in the brush, resulting in 13 homes burnt to the ground. Twenty-three years later, the canyon remains surrounded by sagebrush and several eucalyptus trees that residents fear could ignite another wildfire.

“All it takes is one spark and the hills could be up in flames within minutes, especially since Mondays temperature is said to be 99 degrees,” said homeowner Fern Esperan. “I try to do my part by keeping my yard watered everyday, but with this heat who wants to be out in the sun?” she said.  

Majority of the homeowners in the hills are elderly couples with health issues that have been living in the area for years and they find it difficult to maintain their yard on a daily basis. Several homeowners are also afraid because their homes are deteriorating such as old roofing and if a fire would occur their roofs would definitely catch like a row of firecrackers. Since many are retired they find it extremely difficult to make repairs with their fixed income and with the cost of living rising they find themselves even more in a crisis.

“Unfortunately that’s the price we pay for living up in the hills because we live with an everyday fear of a fire erupting in our backyard and the possibility of losing our homes,” said homeowner Jason Matthews.

They may get a beautiful view of the city but are reminded of possible fire starters just by looking at the dry brush that resides along the canyon. Many of the acres have been restored but due to budget cuts the remaining areas will unfortunately just have to wait until the county can afford the expenses. Turnbull canyon is approximately 4,000 acres of twisted roads and strenuous trails that is open to the public for hiking and bicycling throughout the year.

“Every Sunday morning my husband and I take it upon ourselves to clean up the canyon while on weekend hikes by bringing a large trash bag,” said resident Cindy Martinez. “It looks like people have a picnic here on Saturday with all the trash we find,” she said.

Residents are concerned the trash left behind from hikers and visitors such as empty food containers found in the bushes from local food places such as McDonalds and Starbucks may cause a rapid fire. Many of them have been taking it upon themselves to clean up the mess to avoid an overload of trash and have shockingly found cigarette buds along the trails. Immediate safety measures must be taken in order to avoid another massive fire especially with temperatures rising as we enter the fall season.  

The fire threat in the canyon is currently moderate to high during this heat wave but by being aware and taking action if an emergency would occur can put the canyon and homes at a less risk of being destroyed.

The Los Angeles County Fire Department, specifically station 17 advises the community to think ahead and always be prepared incase of a fire or any other emergency.

“Have an initial meeting place for your family if a fire erupts, the simplest thing you can do is if you smell smoke get out of there as quick as possible,” said Fire Captain Rick Dominguez. “Our duty is to save property and the environment but our first priority is to save lives,” he said.

“Always have a plan for whatever emergency may happen,” said Fire Specialist Bill Lenzen. “You have to get out and have an idea of what you might need such as medication and most importantly know where your kids are and transition quickly for whatever emergency,” he said.

“Use common sense during a fire and maintain your living space,” said Firefighter Mike Ertel.

The importance of residents to be informed is crucial because the chance of a fire occurring is there and everyone needs a reminder of what actions to take during an emergency situation.

The fate of Turnbull canyon and homeowner issues regarding the dry brush remains unknown for now but the residents that are taking action to help maintain the environment are making a huge impact in the community. Perhaps in the future more county officials will step up to the plate and get involved with cleaning up any potential hot spots.

The brave men of Station 17 that keep our community safe, (from left to right) Fire Specialist Bill Lenzen, Fire Captain Rick Dominguez, and Firefighter Mike Ertel. 
Photo By: Ashley Maui Lopez 

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