Fire Safe News

Celebrating the Fall 2023 Dumpathon

The story is simple. We provide the dumpsters, you provide the fire fuel in the form of your canyon and yard trimmings. We haul away over 15 tons of potentially flammable green waste and that makes Kensington safer from wildfire. When all the work is done we come together as a community to celebrate our achievement. The Fall 2023 Dumpathon marked yet another success!

A huge round of applause for our 15 dedicated dumpster-minders, the unsung heroes who graciously allowed us to place a dumpster in front of their homes for ten days. While we weren’t able to capture a photo of everyone, we extend heartfelt gratitude to all the volunteers. Here’s a glimpse of some of our remarkable individuals:

After hauling away over 15 tons of fire fuel from our neighborhood, we deserved a celebration! Terri Mathes, a board member, opened her doors to our community, inviting us to celebrate our accomplishment at her and her husband Jim and wonderful dog Hawkeye’s charming residence.

Guest were warmly greeted by board member Ryan Hunter and his husband J.B.

The celebration was graced with a fantastic array laid out by the Kensington Fire Safe board. The tantalizing spread was a sight to behold.

“And the Oscar goes to…” Each dumpster-minder was presented an “Oscar” as a token of appreciation for their exceptional service to the community, accompanied by a bottle of wine, graciously donated by the KFS board.

The highlight of the event was the arrival of our esteemed guests, the members of Fire Station 18. Their presence was an acknowledgment of our collective commitment to fire safety. They offered their heartfelt thanks before they were urgently called away.

With renewed spirits, guests enjoyed the remainder of the gathering, fostering a sense of camaraderie and community spirit that resonated throughout the celebration.

The Fall 2023 Dumpathon was more than just a cleanup; it was a testament to unity, shared responsibility, and the significance of coming together as a community for a safer future.

Funding for the Dumpathon is provided by The San Diego Regional Fire Foundation, SDG&E, The San Diego River Conservancy and Kensington residents.


Are qualified home-hardening inspectors a rare breed?

By Judy Beust Harrington, Co-Chair, Kensington Fire Safe

Kensington’s fire safe council will share our researched answers to inquiries from community members here. Please send your fire-related questions to  Pictures really appreciated too!

Q: “Are there qualified professionals who can inspect my home and tell me how to make it more firesafe?”  …asks Kensington canyon resident, Michael Kimmel.

And this month’s KFS Good Neighbor Award goes to Michael – hardening even a single home can help protect others nearby as well! And your award is a definite maybe answer to your question. Here’s some options we found:

Certified Inspectors?

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has a “Certified Wildfire Mitigation Specialist Training and Certification,”  but there’s no directory of their certified inspectors, although they told us they expect to have one online soon. (

But we found two possibilities for our area:

  • Wildfire Home Hardening Specialists/Danny Glessner  are NFPA CWMS certified. Danny inspected one Kensington residence – the owner said she was very pleased with his work.   (760-822-4822,
  • The Real Estate Inspection Company, said their certification is in process. They charge $399 for an inspection but will provide our readers with a $100 discount if you use code HFH100. (760 203-9682,

Until California has its own certification (expected 2025), San Diego Fire Rescue Dept. recommends using a state-licensed contractor well-versed in Chapter 7A of the building code. (

Other Possibilities

  1. San Diego Fire Rescue Department conducts door-to-door inspection of homes in  “Very High Hazard Severity Zones,” which includes most of Kensington.  However, with current staffing, it takes approximately 4.5 years to cover the entire city.
    • If you believe there’s a fire hazard within 100 feet of your home, you can contact the Fire Hazard Advisor. The Brush Clerk will send an advisor to conduct a site assessment.  Of course, if they find code violations, you may be issued a citation that can result in fines if you don’t correct the problem. (619-533-4444,
    • Also, owners selling a home in one of these zones must arrange for a “Defensible Space Assessment” as part of the real estate disclosure requirements, which may differ from other inspection requirements. (
  2. Insurers often have trained agents to do home inspections, particularly if they are offering discounts for significant hardening efforts, e.g., new roofs, wiring updates, central fire alarm systems, etc. Check out: (
  3. Non-profits:
    1. For folks with limited ability to harden their home because of physical, economic, or other barriers (1) the Defensible Space Assistance Program has trained inspectors and  potential financial assistance. (, and (2) the National Volunteer Fire Council trains Fire Corp programvolunteers to conduct home safety checks. (
    2. The American Red Cross and partners offer free wildfire preparedness visits where they assess and give tips on the first five feet of defensible space. They also provide free smoke, bed-shaker and strobe alarms. No qualifications or restrictions. (619-354-9609,\SoCal ).
  4. DIY:  Several on-line tools for a do-it-yourself assessment come up on a “home hardening” search, for example:
    1. Wildfire Prepared Home” – this insurance industry’s designation might get you an insurance premium discount. Their online initial questionnaire is quite comprehensive, but beyond that there’s a fee. (
    1. Two other good info sources: CalFire’s Ready for Wildfire.   (, and the  “Safer from Wildfires” program: (

Two side notes:

  1. Fire Chief Anthony Tosca, who thankfully helped with this info, also highly recommends residents consider establishing a local fire safe council – funding is available to help create a safer community.  Heh, Normal Heights, Talmadge, City Heights– how about it?
  2. James McBroom, a NFPA-certified, Alpine Fire Marshall, says it’s time to remove ALL combustible materials from the first five feet around our home exterior. That means no plants, vegetation, wood fencing, mulch, or bark.  Replace with rocks, stone, pavers, or just bare mineral soil. Plants in non-combustible pots under 18″ high, might be OK but NOT in front of a window. 

Hardening against a fire can be a few simple steps, like small-gauge hardwire on your vents — or more involved and potentially expensive efforts.  On the other hand, that could be a piece of cake compared to the cost of replacing your home after a fire. Even if you’re insured, deductibles and gaps in coverage can be significant.  Just ask one of the 75 Normal Heights residents who lost their home to the terrible fire in 1985.

Wonder how many of them, like many of us, thought “it can’t happen here!” As Gary Weber, a resident who lived through it told me, “It truly was a firestorm, and I’m not sure that anything could have stopped it once the winds were amplified as they entered the canyons.”

Thin, Trim and Dump

Oh, and an easy hardening opportunity – thin and trim during Kensington Fire Safe’s Fall Dumpathon, September 28 to October 9th to take advantage of our free dumpsters!  Locations will be announced on Nextdoor, KFS Facebook page, and our website (! Great time to dump leggy, excess or dead greenery before it becomes potential fire fuel!

Thank you Jim Baross for this 1985 Normal Heights fire picture, taken from Jim’s driveway in the 3300 block of North Mountain View. Jim’s house was unharmed except for the door the firefighters broke down, but 75 other neighbors completely lost their home.

Photo curtesy of Richard Miller, a Normal Heights resident since 1976.

A Normal Heights home during the ’85 wildfire.

Fire Safe News Fire-Wise Landscaping

The Making of a Swale

Fire Safe News Fire-Wise Landscaping

Eucalyptus: Garden Friend or Fire Foe?

By Judy Beust Harrington, Co-Chair, Kensington Fire Safe

This column is your fire safe council’s effort to share answers to questions we get from community members. Send your fire-related questions to and we’ll do our best to find the answer!

Q: My own question this time! Lively conversation with a Master Gardener at Kensington Earth Day left me wondering, is eucalyptus the highly flammable bad-boy as we’ve been led to believe?

What’s not to love about eucalyptus trees? Wonderful shade in hot summer months? The roosts, perches, and nests they provide for raptors and other birds? The nesting material their litter supplies local alligator lizards and rat-eating gopher snakes?  Or just that these attractive, year-round green trees often smell good and have lots of medicinal uses? (1)

Too bad “some are bullies” according to local, award-winning landscaper, Greg Rubin. Their bad behavior includes crowding out often much less flammable native plants, especially with the aggressive species’ fibrous, greedy root systems that “take no prisoners.”  This includes the most prevalent blue gums, initially planted over 40,000 southern California acres starting in the mid-1800’s.  Rut Row! Now the California Invasive Plan Council (Cal-IPC ) classifies blue gums as “limited invasive“ — because their significant negative ecological impacts occur in limited areas along the California coast. (2)

Greg says he has no problem with “Eucalyptus citriodora “…beautiful, graceful, non-aggressive large form, that plays nice with our extremely delicate, complex, and non-competitive ecology.”

But back to fire safety. Bottom line: they are not native and don’t belong in our canyons. It’s all about the bark they shed.  A well-tended euc in a homeowner’s yard isn’t likely to go up in flames as fast as a wild canyon one with highly flammable detritus at the base accumulating unabated. In fact, according to a National Park Service publication on eucalyptus – “Firefighters also now realize that wildfires are almost impossible to contain in eucalyptus forests.” Want more insights? Consult the NPS Fire Management Newsletter edition on “Eucalyptus; A Complex Challenge” (3)

Moisture Matters Most

Regardless of what kind of tree or plants you put in your yard, Greg says the most important element for fire resistance is moisture. The benefit of native, drought-tolerant plants is that a little water goes a long way, and they’ll retain it better than most non-natives. Nearly two dozen properties Greg landscaped with native plants survived major area fires, without the loss of a single home!

But aside from going native, how can we increase moisture and conserve our precious water at the same time?  How about letting winter rainfall increase your ground water with a swale…big, little, mini? Why send that precious runoff into sewers to eventually muck up our rivers and waterways?  Greg cites how Dennis Mudd, creator of, runs swales throughout his wonderful plantings. The soil fungi in the swale moves the moisture over to his drought tolerant plantings and greatly reduces the need for watering.  That’s because you put compost in the swale and the bacteria in it will over time help break up the clay in the surrounding areas.

I recently put a swale in my front yard to catch the overflow from one of our rain barrels – which starts flowing in 5-10 minutes during a downpour.  Now I’m making small ones wherever there’s a low patch where I plan to garden.  YouTube has plenty of videos on how to build a swale, but you can check out what I did with pictures at Have a swale time working on yours!

Read Judy’s post about creating a small swale in her Kensington garden.

Sitting in my swale…Judy Harrington

Fire Safe News

Kensington & Lowe’s Team Up for New Firefighters’ BBQ Grill

Pictured L to R: Back row, Captain Scott Fuller, Lowe’s Store Manager, Pablo Sanchez and Supervisor, Carey Soderberg. Front row: Kensington Fire Safe Board Co-Chair, Vicki Pinkus, Treasurer, Amy Dyson, Co-Chair, Judy Harrington; Secretary, Gayla Pierce;  Firefighter Lauren Thiel and Lowe’s Assistant Manager, Manny Rodriguez.

Kensington Fire Safe through Co-Chair Judy Harrington was able to support Station 18 in getting a new BBQ pit by calling Lowe’s assistant manager, Manny Rodriguez.  Mr. Rodriguez worked with Lowe’s management to secure a gift certificate toward the cost of a top-notch grill, which they agreed to sell at cost, and KFS board members decided they would chip in to cover the balance. 

But when Captain Scott Fuller, Firefighter Lauren Thiel and KFS board members showed up on April 24th to purchase the grill, they were delightfully surprised to hear that the store managers decided to cover the full cost, and the firefighters could keep the gift certificate for other needs. 

“We just felt so appreciative of all these brave firefighters do to keep us all safe, and we wanted to do more,” said Manny Rodriguez. “And they deserve some great barbecued meals!”

Kensington Fire Safe Co-Chair, Vicki Pinkus added, “Our community really values the job these men and women do for us, and we’re so pleased that they gave us the opportunity to help.”

“It’s always great to connect with the community when there isn’t a fire,” Fire Captain Fuller said.  “We’re so grateful to Lowes and Kensington Fire Safe for helping us out with this beautiful new grill. We will put it to great use!”

San Diego Fire-Rescue Department Station 18 is located at 4676 Felton St in San Diego.

Kensington Fire Safe, a volunteer, non-profit, 501(c)(3) that promotes fire safety in Kensington and surrounding communities, is a fire safe council under the auspices of the Fire Safe Councils of San Diego County.  KFS is funded through grants from the FSC of SDC, San Diego Regional Fire Foundation and SDG&E, as well as residents’ donations.

Fire Safe News

KFS Promotes a Fire-Free Earth Day!

Kensington’s second successful Earth Day, held Saturday, April 23, included KFS volunteers giving out firefighter hats to the kids and lots of fire-safety info to the adults, plus great giveaways courtesy of the Fire Safe Council of San Diego County.  Many folks signed up to be on our mailing list and asked some important questions.  This annual event is sponsored by TreesKenTal, and we’re happy to support their efforts to reduce global warming by providing more trees for Kensington and other communities!

Fire Safe News Fire-Wise Landscaping

MetroView March-April 2023 Edition: Fire-ey Questions …from Your Neighbors

Coif Your Canyon to Reduce Erosion and Flammability
By Judy Beust Harrington, Co-Chair, Kensington Fire Safe
Photo Credit (Above): Lucy Warren

This column is your fire safe council’s effort to share answers to questions we get from community members. Send your fire-related questions to and we’ll do our best to find the answer!

Q: From Loren, an Alder Circle resident: “What should I plant in my shaded, bare dirt canyon area, to reduce fire and erosion risk?”

A: There was a house on Alder they called the sliding shame… I’m told the back room went right down the canyon decades ago in a heavy rain, probably like ones we witnessed this past winter. This neighbor’s question is timely!

Lists of online drought and fire-resistant plants seem overwhelming, so I reached out to Kensington resident and UC Cooperative Extension Master Gardener, DeLayne Harmon, and she reached out to fellow MGer, Lucy Warren, a southern California sustainable landscaping expert and writer. (Check out her excellent “California Native Plants” video at:

Lucy’s advice? “My personal one-plant response for slopes: Baccharis ‘Pigeon Point’ mixed with at least four other species.”
“Coyote Bush” – as it is also called – is a favorite of your fire safe council! Not only is it fast-growing, drought-tolerant and slope-stabilizing, it also is said to emit a mild flame retardant when faced with a fire. And, while it prefers sun, it can grow in mostly shade too.

DeLayne clarified that Pigeon Point ground cover – Baccharis pilularis spp pilularis – is a specific coyote bush hybrid with smaller leaves that only grows to about two feet. You can often find it at City Farmers Nursery (3110 Euclid) or Hunter’s Nursery (3110 Sweetwater Road, Lemon Grove). More info at‘Pigeon-Point’-(Pigeon-Point-Coyote-Brush)?srchcr=sc5e39ba57165f9

Be a Diversity Diva

What about that “four other species” advice? Check out Lucy’s co-author and popular local landscaper, Greg Rubin’s website on the role of native landscaping in fire suppression. Greg has landscaped homes that came out relatively unharmed while nearby houses were destroyed in wildfires. His years of research for the U.S Navy established that lightly hydrated evergreen, perennial native plants assist in fire suppression as well or better than succulent plants. And diversity can help fight diseases too. More info at Greg’s CalOwn website:
The local chapter of the California Native Plant Society ( ) has a great pamphlet which lists native plants for area landscapes. And you can narrow info down to your specific needs at

Plant water!

Another way you might increase your canyon’s erosion and fire resistance is to capture some of the mountains of water that run off your house, with rain barrels and “swales” to safely catch the barrel’s overflow during our rainy season. Swales are basically flat ditches or gutters, which can be filled with rocks, compost, and plants to safely increase your ground water and keep established plants healthy. They can slow a fire’s spread toward your house and keep your trees alive if the day ever comes when we’re prohibited from using scarce water for gardens. Much swale how-to info is available online or search for “mini-swales in an urban backyard.” (

Bottom line for fire and erosion resistance: no to any dry woody stems, like ice plant, no to invasives like Pampas grass or leaving the ground bare. Yes to harvesting barrels of rainfall to support oodles of attractive native plant diversity! Matchy-matchy is out in jewelry and gardens!

Community Presentations Fire Safe News

Home Owner Insurance Presentation

It was standing room only at KFS’s February 11, 2023 home owner insurance presentation by Scott Caraveo.  The crowd had great questions about the challenges of finding coverage in California!

Here’s an iPhone video of Scott’s talk in two parts.

View part 1.

View part 2.

If you have additional questions – please send them to us at (along with suggestions for future presentations or other fire-related questions you may have for us).

Community Recognition Fire Safe News

KFS Awarded $8000 SAFE Grant for Dumpathon

(Photo: Pictured above from left is Penny Newell, Senior Communications Manager for SDG&E, who has been extremely helpful in securing funding for KFS, along with KFS board members, Amy Dyson, Vicki Pinkus and Judy Harrington.)

KFS is proud to announce we were awarded an $8,000 SAFE grant by the Fire Safe Council of SD County, for our dumpster program, and our co-chairs were recognized with a volunteer of the year award! FSC-SDC programs is funded by the San Diego River Conservancy, United States Forest Service, SDG&E, and the Resource Conservation District of Greater San Diego County as well as donations from private individuals.

Fire Safe News

Memorial Day Parade 2022

The Kensington Memorial Day Parade was a roaring success! We were Entry #3 right behind “our” Fire Station 18 fire truck. “Our Firefighters” say howdy and thanks to all!

 Although the photos don’t show the very large crowds that were just a couple of blocks south of Ridgeway on Marlborough Drive, thanks to my amazing early teen “helpers,” Aliana and Nikki, we gave out 98 beautiful Dumpathon flyers to very interested onlookers in just 5 blocks. 

Dozens and dozens of onlookers cheered us on, and I shouted out our website to many parade onlookers.

We may have been the “smallest” entry in the Parade but we certainly were a wee hit!

-Vicki Pinkus, Vice President, KFS Board of Directors