Arson Watch Looks Out for Fire!

Annemarie DonkinBy Annemarie Donkin      September 18, 2020

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Arson Watch Looks Out for Fire!
Arson Watch volunteer Scott King stands in front of the Arson Watch sign ready to go on patrol. He is dressed for patrol with shirt, hat, and sheriff’s volunteer ID badge, and is also equipped with a two-way radio, and fire extinguisher. Photo Courtesy of Arson Watch.
In the nearly 30 years that Arson Watch volunteers have been on patrol, only one major fire has been started in the Topanga/Malibu area. It was an Arson Watch volunteer who reported the Old Topanga Canyon/Malibu Fire in November I993.
The Santa Monica Mountains just survived a long, hot summer. But the fall months are often more dangerous, with instances of Santa Ana winds and hot, dry conditions. This is why Arson Watch volunteers are so vital—because on Red Flag Days, they are the folks standing on a hilltop with binoculars looking out for smoke and fire. A TEAM EFFORT To help prevent devastating fires, Arson Watch teams patrol the Santa Monica Mountains looking for signs of smoke or fire and report any sighting, warnings and vital information to the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s station, L.A. County Fire, California Highway Patrol, and other local officials. They also provide information to the Topanga Coalition for Emergency Preparedness (TCEP). Arson Watch volunteers are under the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and work closely with them as well as the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA). “MRCA has a greater presence in the Topanga area patrolling 24/7 and they monitor our radio frequencies during Red Flags,” said a Topanga Arson Watch Lead Volunteer when asked how Arson Watch works in the mountains. “We have also been included in recent trainings presented by the Los Angeles County Fire Department (LACoFD). “We haven’t really had any Red Flags in the Topanga/Malibu area recently in spite of all the major fires elsewhere and smaller fires locally,” the spokesperson continued. “Nonetheless, during the extreme heat warnings, Arson Watch has had volunteers out as available. Currently, the Malibu group is much bigger than the Topanga group, no doubt due to the Woolsey fire sparking interest in more people volunteering there. Unfortunately, Topanga is the bigger threat since there is so much fuel available in the event of a fire. That was the case in Woolsey and now that fuel is significantly reduced having burned. The ongoing heat waves are further drying the fuel as the period of Red Flags approaches so it is worrisome for Topanga this year.
By Eric Fitzgerald
According to the Arson Watch website, today, more than reactive, volunteers of all ages and background continue to patrol the Santa Monica Mountains during periods of extreme fire weather conditions. They cover an area of more than 185 square miles, logging somewhere between 2,500 and 4,000 total volunteer hours. These Arson Watch Volunteers use their own vehicles (identified by magnetic ARSON WATCH signs) and two-way radios. As many as 60 calls per season are passed on to public safety agencies.

“Fortunately, Topanga has some great resources for firefighting and fire prevention,” the Arson Watch volunteer said. “I think most Topanga residents are pretty fire aware and fire wise; let’s hope that can be the case when the winds arrive in the next few months. Los Angeles County has done an excellent job of keeping residents informed with materials like the Los Angeles County Fire Department’s “Ready-Set-Go” booklet and the routine drills.” Download the “Ready-Set-Go” booklet at

Canyon residents should also be aware that the Topanga Fire Safe Council provides homeowners a no-cost assessment and evaluation of a home to survive a wildfire. (

All that being said, Topanga Canyon is a major traffic route bringing people through the area who are unaware of the high fire danger,” the volunteer related. In fact, Arson Watch volunteers report constantly encountering smokers on Red Flag days in places like Top O’ Topanga Overlook, at Saddle Peak and Stunt Road.

Arson Watch is a 501(c)(3) organization and relies on contributions for the purchase of radios and other equipment in order to operate (

“Given the danger of fire to Topanga, Arson Watch can always use more volunteers,” the Volunteer said. “Those interested can email”
Annemarie Donkin
      September 18, 2020

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