Like most of southern California, the Conejo Valley is vulnerable to destructive wildfires. This vulnerability is a product of a climate that produces long periods without rain that dry vegetation, warm temperatures throughout the year, and seasonal winds that can increase the severity of fires if they are ignited during these conditions. The history of fires in our community creates community concerns and multiple agencies are working together to reduce risks.
Protecting the community from wildfires is a community effort that depends on fire planning and structure protection, emergency preparedness, fuel management on wildland areas in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI), and resident actions to make homes resilient to blowing embers. This page has been created to share information about fire safety and the programs implemented by public agencies and non-profit organizations in the Conejo Valley.
Wildfire Expert Jon Keeley and State Senator Henry Stern Discuss Wildfire Dangers and How to Live with Wildfires.
Fires have always been a feature of the Conejo Valley’s landscape. With a natural return period of 30-100 years and the absence of homes, fire could be called a natural feature rather than a “threat”. Fire becomes a threat, both to homes and the environment, when structures are built in a fire-prone landscape and when human-caused ignitions become more frequent. Additionally, the threat of large destructive fires is closely associated with extreme wind events (Santa Ana Winds), which are also a regular annual feature of our region. Research has shown that destructive fires in our region are driven principally by our region’s weather variables (wind) and human-caused ignition sources more so than fuel conditions. Since all of the Conejo Valley lies in a high-risk fire area, there have always been and will always be fire threats here. Community safety will rely on a combination of preventing human-caused ignitions (from people or infrastructure) and protection of structures through a combination of defensible space creation, home hardening, community planning, and strategic deployment of fire-fighting resources.
Multiple public agencies have programs to help prepare for a wildfire emergency.
- Ventura County Fire Department (VCFD): The Ventura County Fire Department has several important roles in community fire safety. VCFD prepares for future fires by modelling the conditions that contribute to severe fires, and using the knowledge gained from these to inform the deployment of fire suppression resources. They also lead local fire fighting responses and coordinate with partners throughout the state to ensure resources are available to protect the community. VCFD also promotes the Ready, Set, Go program to help residents prepare for fire emergencies.
- Conejo Open Space Conservation Agency (COSCA): COSCA manages 12,700 acres of open space located throughout the community, and has a comprehensive defensible space program under which they actively manage vegetation where open space properties abut communities. Each year COSCA, the City of Thousand Oaks (CTO) and the Conejo Recreation and Park District (CRPD) receives notice from the Ventura County Fire Department for all parcels where the defensible space buffer (100 feet from structures and 10 ft from roads) crosses into COSCA / City / CRPD property. The three agencies partner on this work through a single program. When project work is complete, it is inspected by VCFD to ensure compliance with the Ventura County Fire Code. The purpose of the defensible space program is to reduce fuel density within 100 feet of a home or structure. This buffer zone gives space to fire fighters and other first responders to protect homes and keeps the radiant heat and direct flames of fires far enough away to prevent structure ignition.
COSCA also partners with non-profit organizations such as the Ventura Regional Fire Safe Council to support community education on fire safety. Through the Fire Safe Council, COSCA has supported educational webinars on fire safety topics, free vegetation chipper days, and home hardening assessments that provide advice on making a home resilient to ember ignitions. In the coming year, the partnership will create a pilot program that helps seniors with direct home hardening assistance.
- City of Thousand Oaks – The City works closely with COSCA on the defensible space program and implements weed abatement activities on City-owned properties. In addition, the City serves as the host of the community’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC). The EOC is activated during fire emergencies and serves as a clearinghouse for real-time information which is transmitted to the community’s leaders and residents through multiple media types. Having up-to-date information during an emergency is crucial to community safety. The City also plays a crucial role before, during, and after an emergency in maintaining public infrastructure and community services and facilitating community recovery.
- Conejo Recreation and Park District (CRPD) – CRPD is an active partner with the City and COSCA on the weed abatement program and undertakes weed abatement on CRPD-owned properties. Buildings managed by CRPD are also often used during emergencies as evacuation centers and places community members can go to obtain assistance and during, and immediately after, an emergency.
The Ventura County Fire Code specifies 100 feet of fuel reduction around occupied structures. This standard was established by the Ventura County Fire Department based on wildfire science and firefighter experience.
Vegetation treatments are only part of wildfire preparation, however. While fuel treatments reduce ignitions caused by radiant heat and direct flame contact with structures, they are less effective at preventing ember ignitions. Embers travel long distances during wind-driven fires and blow over fuel reduction zones just as they readily cross wide paved freeways. Protection from embers requires a different approach to ignition prevention, called home hardening, that is focused on making the structure resilient to ember ignitions.
In wind-driven fires, embers are often the primary source of home ignitions. Embers gather against structures in windy conditions and ignite any fuel that they find close to the home. Therefore, the actions taken by homeowners in the immediate vicinity of the home to reduce fuel are the most important in protecting the home. These practices are known as home hardening.
Typical home hardening practices include:
· Removing vegetation in the 5 feet immediately around the home.
· Cleaning rain gutters and raking leaves.
· Installing 1/8 mesh over attic vents.
· Investing in double-pane windows
· Closing eves
· Removing wooden structures contacting the home.
· Move stored firewood or propane tanks away from the home.
When combined with defensible space and fire suppression, home hardening can be the difference in saving your home. More information and opportunities for assistance can be found by visiting the Ventura Regional Fire Safe Council website at https://venturafiresafe.org/.
Wildfires Can Attack Your House From the Inside — Here's How to Prevent It – KQED, 10/30/2017.
Wind-driven glowing embers pose a greater threat to homes than fire itself – LA Times, 8/3/2008.
No. While these habitat types are resilient to fire, they do not need fire to persist and more frequent disturbance will cause them to convert to weedy herbaceous landscapes dominated by vegetation that is more flammable. Learn more about chaparral and wildfire from the Chaparral Institute here.
The conversion of one habitat type to another is called type-conversion. A brief description of this process can be found here. COSCA manages land to prevent type-conversion because there are so many species of wildlife that depend on chaparral and coastal sage scrub habitats for their survival.
Here is a short video explaining why COSCA and other conservation agencies value our chaparral ecosystems.
No. As mentioned in the sections above, removing more vegetation is not likely to improve home safety. There has been much talk about using prescribed burns at the state-wide level, but this land management practice is almost always used in pine forest lands. The Conejo Valley does not have pine forests, so this management technique is not applicable here.It is important to note that different habitat types and plant communities require different management practices, and using the wrong practices causes substantial damage to local plant communities and the wildlife that depend on them. Prescribed burns cause the conversion of land from shrubland vegetation to grasslands and herbaceous annual weeds. These fuel types ignite much more easily than shrublands and the fired spread through them more rapidly. This may actually increase fire risks in some areas.
Earlier this week the CA Insurance Commissioner announced a new partnership between multiple state agencies to create state standards for home hardening. The value of doing so would give insurance companies a benchmark to establish standards for fire insurance. This is anticipated to assist homeowners that have implemented home hardening standards to more easily acquire home insurance, and may bring fire insurance rates down.
More Articles and Links About Land Management and Wildfires:
Fuel Management and Wildfires - LA Times, 9/11/2019.
Will Cal Fire’s plan to rip out vegetation in San Diego lead to an explosion in flammable invasive grasses? - The San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/30/19.
Wildland Fire Safety Starts in the Home – University of California Cooperative Extension
S.A.F.E. Landscapes – University of California Cooperative Extension