Concerned homeowners in one Southern California community have taken matters into their own hands when it comes to fighting wildfires.
Residents of Bell Canyon, which was heavily impacted by the 2018 Woolsey Fire, felt that they could have done more to assist thinly stretched fire crews with preventing houses from burning down.
“We watched fire creep up to a house, catch it on fire and burn the whole thing down with nobody there to do anything,” said Larry Little, who works with the Bell Canyon Volunteer Wildland Fire Department. “Those of us who had sort of fought it with garden hoses and the limited resources we had looked around and went ‘What else can we do?’”
To answer that question, they founded the Bell Canyon Volunteer Wildland Fire Department, which is not a substitute for 911; their primary mission is to protect residents and property while supporting local fire agencies.
The department is available 24/7 for community calls, the most common of which usually involves a rattlesnake on the loose or an injury-related accident. So far in 2023, they have responded to roughly 150 calls for service.
“We’re not a structure fire department,” said Bell Canyon Volunteer Wildland Fire Department Chief Garrett Clancy. “But what we can do is, if a home is fully engulfed, we can pour water on it, make sure that the homes on either side are protected and make sure the street is clear for city trucks to come in.”
Firefighting isn’t the only way this department is helping to serve their community.
“We’re equipped to handle anything from a wildfire to an over-the-side rescue to a hiker rescue,” said Bell Canyon Volunteer Wildland firefighter Leo Kaufman.
Some of the volunteers have full-time jobs as lawyers, pilots, filmmakers and accountants, but they are all happy to add volunteer firefighter to their resumés, and their service is not going unnoticed by neighbors, either.
“It’s just amazing to have that service here,” said Cory Everson, who lives in Bell Canyon. “You go to bed at night knowing that if something happens, someone will be here within five minutes.”
Mostly funded through private donations, the fire department has been able to acquire some serious equipment to protect their community, including over a mile of fire hose, two Type 6 fire engines equipped with 300 gallons each, and a Type 2 engine with a 500-gallon capacity.
However, the most important part of their mission is the dedication they have to serve the community they call home.
“There’s an extra drive, an extra impetus to protect your family, your friends, your neighbors and your neighborhood,” Little said.