Fire Safe Council prepares wildland fire strategy for Ojai Valley

Perry Van Houten, Ojai Valley News senior reporter
A nonprofit group that promotes wildfire safety in the Ojai Valley is seeking public feedback on a wildland fire strategy now in development.
A survey on the Ojai Valley Fire Safe Council’s Community Wildfire Risk Mitigation Roadmap takes about 25 minutes to complete and is available on the front page of the Ojai Valley News website at
The goal of the survey is to better understand the needs and concerns, the perceptions and the experiences of local residents to past and future wildfire threats.
The survey asks questions regarding home hardening, evacuations, wildland fire experiences and the protection of community assets.
Input from the community is needed for the development and eventual implementation of the strategy, according to OVFSC officials.
On Nov. 18, at Ojai City Hall, OVFSC executive director and grants specialist Christopher Danch gave an update on the plan to the Ojai Disaster Council. The ODC was formed in 1973 to develop emergency plans and agreements, and make recommendations to the Ojai City Council.
Seeking recommendations from the ODC, Danch was joined by members of a working group convened in September that includes fire, water, environmental and conservation experts.
Danch said the plan to help lessen the threat of wildfire in the Ojai Valley grew out of lessons learned from the Thomas Fire and other recent wildfires. “We all came away with the idea that we actually need to do more as a community to be better prepared for, be better able to respond during, and recover more quickly after a major wildfire event or any other natural disaster,” he said.
As a framework for the plan, OVFSC is developing a “roadmap” that lays out a course of action and identifies funding sources. “It’s really a plan to make a bigger plan,” Danch said.
One possible high-priority element of the overall strategy is a community micro-grid project that would guarantee renewable-driven power for fire stations, evacuation shelters, and water and communications infrastructure.
Other elements could include a prescribed grazing program, water system improvements, establishment of evacuation shelters and home hardening.
On Monday, Danch provided the ODC with a snapshot of the plan’s progress, its structure and how OVFSC is going about developing it. He said OVFSC is seeking support for the plan from the city of Ojai and other agencies, as it moves forward with funding proposals.
The completion deadline for the roadmap is Jan. 31, but an interim draft needs to be finished by Nov. 30 in order to be used in critical grant and other funding opportunities in early December, Danch said.
Following OVFSC’s presentation, members of the Ojai Disaster Council provided feedback. “I’m onboard with getting the whole community involved in it,” said Ojai Police Chief James Fryhoff. “I think we need to talk about funding and sharing the costs with the county, because they have a certain interest in this, as well.”
Funding of the plan by the city of Ojai presents certain challenges, according to Ojai Mayor Johnny Johnston. “We’re sort of a small player in all of this, and without a little more focus I don’t see much going on in the way of funding, at this stage,” he said.
Ojai city manager James Vega liked the civic engagement and structural hardening elements of the draft plan, but agreed that funding is a challenge. “We have a $55,000 deficit this year, and as of right this minute, we haven’t solved it yet,” he said.
Ventura County Fire Department Division Chief Gary Monday called the draft plan “very detailed” and said OVFSC could count on his agency’s backing during the grant process, along with providing matching funds, personnel and equipment on projects.
In December, OVFSC will be making formal presentations on the roadmap to 1st District Supervisor Steve Bennett’s office and the Ojai City Council.
Johnston suggested the presentation to the council be more targeted toward the city of Ojai, “… focusing on how the city can partner and why.”
Once the plan is developed and implemented — a process expected to take two years — securing funding to maintain it will be critical. “The last thing anybody in this group wants is something that ends up on the shelf,” Danch said. “That’s of no use to us whatsoever.”