Our Story

The Ojai Valley Fire Safe Council (OVFSC) was founded in 2000 and over the last twenty years has successfully managed over 26 federally funded grants totaling over $1.3 Million. The OVFSC has also received state, local and private grants and community donations to fund its work. The projects funded by these grants and donation include:

  • Extensive, and effective, vegetation management projects, focusing on high fire hazards.
  • Created Countywide Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) in 2010
  • Elementary, Junior High and High School level wildfire safety education programs throughout the greater Ojai Valley Area.
  • Wildfire safety programs for:
    • Agriculture (farmers and ranchers)
    • Homeowners
    • Other landowners
    • Landscape Professionals
  • In-home presentations in cooperation with the US Forest Service and VC Fire Dept.
  • Produced videos for wildfire preparedness which are available on our website. Other online wildfire safety resources include Home Wildfire Safety Survey, Emergency Supplies Checklist and Family Safety Plan.
  • Bi-annual Wildfire Safety Fair.

The OVFSC has built effective partnerships with many agencies, organizations and other community partners.

The 2017 Thomas Fire, and the California wildfires since, showed that we needed a level of community capacity to be better prepared for, respond to and recovery from the threat of wildfire. This has resulted in a new focus for the OVFSC—to develop a comprehensive, community-based, community-driven wildfire risk mitigation strategy. This process was begun in 2019 with the preparation of the Road Map.

Click HERE to learn more about the Road Map and the Wildfire Risk Mitigation Strategy.

What We Do

EDUCATION FOR WILDFIRE PREPAREDNESS, PROTECTION AND SAFETY

The OVFSC has developed a wide variety of resources to help Ojai Valley citizens to prepare for wildfire and to protect themselves during a wildfire event. These resources include two online forms – a Family Safety Plan, downloadable form, and a Home Wildfire Safety Survey that helps homeowners to assess the safety of their home and property in the event of a wildfire. Other resources are downloadable and useful links are provided.

As the threat of catastrophic wildfires is increasing, the OVFSC is preparing a series of podcasts and presentations to further educate and better prepare the Ojai Valley for this threat.

COMPREHENSIVE WILDFIRE RISK MITIGATION STRATEGY

The 2017 Thomas Fire demonstrated that the Ojai Valley community was inadequately prepared for such a fast-moving, erratic wind-driven wildfire. While wildfire is inevitable and necessary, the wildfires of 2017-2020 represent an increased risk from wildfires. The nature of the Thomas Fire led to the public safety agencies being quickly overwhelmed and hampered by single points of failure in critical systems. After the Thomas Fire, the OVFSC was approached by key stakeholders, including the County of Ventura, Ventura Fire Protection District, City of Ojai and its Advisory Board, to lead the preparation and implementation of a comprehensive wildfire safety strategy for the Ojai Valley to create the community-level response capacity needed for such catastrophic fires.

The OVFSC accepted the challenge and initiated the process to develop and implement a sustainable, holistic, community-base Wildfire Risk Mitigation Strategy for the Ojai Valley area. The first step was to prepare a Road Map for development, implementation and funding of this important initiative.

CREATE RESILIENT FIRE-ADAPTED COMMUNITIES

An overarching goal of the Wildfire Risk Mitigation Strategy is to develop a culture of wildfire safety and resiliency in the Ojai Valley; to become a truly fire-adapted community in a fire-dependent ecosystem.  A “fire-adapted community” can be defined as:

A knowledgeable and engaged community in which the awareness and actions of residents regarding infrastructure, buildings, landscaping, and surrounding ecosystem lessens the need of extensive protection actions and enables the community to safely accept fire as part of the surrounding landscape. 

The National Wildfire Coordinating Group, U.S. Forest Service

A truly fire-adapted community is overall a more sustainable and resilient community.  Many of the capacities being developed for the Wildfire Risk Mitigation Strategy also increase the sustainability and resiliency of the Ojai Valley community as a whole.  The OVFSC has joined with other agencies and organizations to collaborate and coordinate the development of these resilience strategies.

Who We Are

CHRISTOPHER DANCH - EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR/GRANTS MANAGER

Chris, a native of the Ojai Valley, is the executive director of the Ojai Valley Fire Safe Council (OVFSC). The Ojai Valley was ground zero for the 2017 Thomas Fire and the impact of, and the hard lessons learned from, this uncontrollable wildland fire prompted the OVFSC to undertake the development of a long-term, community-focused, community-driven Wildfire Risk Mitigation Strategy for the Ojai Valley and surrounding communities. Chris joined the OVFSC in 2019 to assist the Council in the Risk Mitigation Strategy initiative.

Chris has a broad, diverse background of law, business, education, and environmental and community service. He has over 40 years of legal experience including the areas of strategic legal planning and consultation, business law (litigation, transactional, organizational development, and reorganization), nonprofit organizations, environmental, agriculture and natural resource management, international law, construction and real estate/land use. He has 25 years of direct litigation experience at both the federal and state level, with jury and non-jury trials, judicial and non-judicial arbitration, administrative proceedings, mediation, and appeals.

When Chris is not working on wildfire risk mitigation, he maintains a part-time practice of law, with an emphasis on providing general counsel to select non-profit and for-profit organizations, including those involved in regenerative agriculture. Chris is also Of Counsel with the Hoban Law Group, a national and international law firm focused on industrial hemp, and headquartered in Denver, Colorado. Chris’ practice areas with the Hoban Law Group include Corporate Counsel/Securities, Business/Commercial Transactions, Real Estate/Land Use, and Environmental Law.

DALE CUNDIFF - CAPTAIN, VCFD (RET)
Dale Cundiff has been a life-long resident of the Ojai Valley. Following graduation from Nordhoff High School he attended Vanguard University where he received his BS degree in Education and state teaching credential. Dale begin his teaching career in 1976. Dale completed his graduate studies at California Lutheran University where he received his MS degree in Special Education. Dale’s teaching career span ten years in both private and public schools in the Ojai Valley. In 1980 he joined the Ventura County Fire Department as a Reserve Firefighter, while still teaching in the public school system. In 1986 Dale entered the VCFD Fire Academy to become a full-time firefighter. Following graduation from the Fire Academy Dale’s assignments would include the Hazardous Material Response Team, Oilfield Firefighting Task Force and the Fire Academy Training Cadre in addition to his first responder duties. Dale retired from the Fire Service as the Captain of the Ojai Fire Station in 2011. In retirement Dale has been active as a CPR, First Aid and Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) instructor. Dale joined the Ojai Valley Fire Safe Council as a board member in 2013.
BOB WARD - IT ENGINEER, QAD, INC.

Bob Ward attended USCB where he graduated with BA in Business Economics in 1985.  Bob was the Beach Lifeguard Supervisor for the City of Santa Barbara in the early 1990’s and later graduated from the Santa Barbara City Fire Science Academy.  He has been employed for the past 25 years at QAD, Inc as an IT Engineer where his responsibilities include the migration of applications and data to the Google Cloud platform.  QAD is a global Nasdaq listed corporation with approximately 2000 employees in over 20 countries.  Bob has lived in the city of Ojai for almost 20 years.  He and his wife Laura have 4 children. Laura is the Publisher for the Ojai Valley News where Bob is currently assisting the Ojai Valley News with their digital transformation and administers the newspaper website.  Bob is the newest member of the OVFSC board and brings a passion for technology and fire science to the team.

WAYNE MAYNARD - FIRE CAPTAIN (RETIRED), VENTURA COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT

Wayne Maynard moved to Ojai while in the 5th grade and has resided in Oak View and Ojai for over 50 years. A local graduate from Nordhoff, he obtained an AA Degree at Ventura College, a Fire Science Certificate at Oxnard College and a Continuing Education Certificate at UCLA in Fire Protection Engineering.

As an Eagle Scout he learned the value and enjoyment of public service which led to joining the Ojai Fire Station Reserve Firefighter Program in 1974. At 19 years of age he was hired as a full-time firefighter with Ventura County Fire Department in 1975. Promoted to Fire Captain in 1984 he worked at various station assignments in the Ojai and Thousand Oaks areas. He attained sufficient training and experience in wildland firefighting to become a Planning Section Chief, part of the command staff during wildland fire incidents and also served in that capacity on a CalFire (CDF) state incident command team. Much of his career was spent working in the Fire Prevention Division of the Fire Department where he became recognized as a national expert in building and fire codes. He served as chairman to the International Code Council Performance Fire Code Drafting Committee which published the first performance-based fire code in the county. He served on several code development committees with the International Fire Code Institute, the California Building Standards Commission, the California State Fire Marshal office, and the California Fire Chiefs Association.

Although retired in 2011 as a full time firefighter, Wayne continues to do occasional part time work for the Fire Department to assist the Fire Marshal in the development and management of various Fire Prevention Programs. He enjoys hiking and camping and spends some time away from home visiting his grandchildren and traveling to National Parks around the county. Wayne joined the Ojai Valley Fire Safe Council as a board member in 2021.

WILL CASTAGNA - PRESIDENT
Will Castagna has lived in Ojai since 1998, and was one of the original founders of the Ojai Valley Fire Safe Council in 2000. He has served the council continuously for over 20 years, as a Board Member, Executive Director and Grants Manager, and he currently serves as the Board’s President. Professionally, he is a start-up consultant, helping to grow businesses from ideas through to acquisition. He has also helped create and grow several local non-profit organizations, and successfully acquired over $1M in grant funding for the Ojai Valley Fire Safe Council. Programs implemented include wildfire safety education for students, homeowners, landscapers, and farmers and ranchers; the Last Stand Fuel Break project to the north of the valley; the Ojai Wildfire Safety Fair; and house-out defensible space programs in high fire-danger neighborhoods
TED MALOS - EDUCATOR, RETIRED

Ted and his wife Pearl are longtime residents of the Ojai Valley; having first lived in Matilija Canyon in the mountains north of Ojai and more recently along the nearby North Fork Matilija Creek.  Ted graduated UCSB in 1974 with his teacher’s credential, teaching at both public and private schools. These schools included Ojai Valley School, Conejo Unified School District Outdoor School, and co- founding of the Matilija Environmental Science Area (MESA).  Later he took a different course into the field of technology.  He worked in a variety of settings as a Systems Analyst and later as the Director of Technology at both Community Memorial Hospital and then at Ventura Unified School District.  Ted retired in 2012 from VUSD after 16 years of service; connecting the education of children with the business aspects of the school district.  He was a major contributor in the development of the I-NET which linked the school district to the City of Ventura, Police, Fire Department, and hospitals.  Ted joined the OVFSC Board in 2012 because of his interest in protecting the Ojai community from fire danger.

COLE BUSH - COMMUNITY SUPPORTED GRAZING PROGRAM DIRECTOR

A self-deemed ‘shepherdess’, Brittany Cole Bush, AKA Cole has over a decade of experience working as regenerative agriculture and land management specialist. Cole aids in the creation of prescribed grazing programs for public safety and ecological enhancement as an educator, practitioner, and consultant. She is the sole owner-operator of Shepherdess Land and Livestock Co., a contract grazing business working with sheep and goats based out of the Upper Ojai Valley at Oak Heritage Ranch. Her on-the-ground experience includes the development and implementation of large-scale prescribed grazing programs in the Bay Area of California as the Project Manager for Star Creek Land Stewards (SCLS), a premier contract grazing operation based out of the Central Valley. During her tenure with SCLS from 2012-2016, she oversaw contract grazing programs impacting over 2,000 acres of private and public lands on an annual basis for vegetation management, ecosystems services, fire fuel load reduction, invasive species management, and biological enhancement, using upwards of 2,000 head of sheep and goats in over six counties. Cole is also the Co-Director of the Grazing School of the West, an ongoing project creating vocational paths for next-generation agrarians as land stewards through training, technical assistance, and experiential learning. Cole is thrilled to be working to support fire resilience and ecological health with her experience as a land steward shepherding animals, people, and projects.

MICHAEL LEICHT - COMMUNITY-SUPPORTED GRAZING PROGRAM DIRECTOR OF COMMUNITY OUTREACH

Michael has been passionate about regenerative agriculture from an early age. At 20 years old, he began writing about the importance of local vs. global food economies. When he started his own small farm at 23, he would slip short essays lauding the benefits of localized agriculture into his weekly ‘CSA’ veggie deliveries. When asked why he was so passionate about local food, Michael would exclaim “Localizing agriculture is not only good for our health; it benefits our community, our planet, and just tastes better!”

At 24, his daughter Lavender was born, and Michael struggled to find locally produced milk to provide for her. Not content with the store-bought fare, this first-time dad decided to learn how to milk goats to provide homegrown milk for his daughter.

Michael was milking several goats every day, and raising the dairy kids for meat. After the Thomas Fire ripped through Ventura County, friends and neighbors started to ask Michael to keep the goats in their yards to keep the weeds down. The opportunity to make a living working with livestock to help protect his community from future wildfire was ripe, and Ventura Brush Goats was born. The demand for this holistic and effective vegetation management service was so great, Ventura Brush Goats went from managing just 6 goats to about 400 sheep and goats in just 3 years. The company clears 2-3 acres of fire-fuel per day on average. This Spring of 2021, the herd is finally large enough for Michael to start a fledgling meat enterprise. A long-standing dream of Michael’s, Wildfire Meat Co. is offering locally raised lamb, for sale only at the Ojai Community Farmer’s Market, Thursdays from 3-7pm.

We need your help

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Our Mission is to Promote Wildfire Safety
in the Ojai Valley through Education and Action.

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