Mountain Views News     Logo: MVNews     Saturday, April 27, 2013

MVNews this week:  Page 4

FIRE - continued from page 3

running over it and dumping debris 
everywhere. It was in bad shape 
and extremely unsafe for both race 
participants and trail volunteers like 
Sierra Madre Search & Rescue, the Boy 
Scouts and Cub Scouts.”

I asked Pete to share his recollections of 
the fire as regards the Trail Race for this 
article, and here’s what he had to say… 
“As I recall it, the MWTR Committee 
was working hard to get the race ready 
for Saturday, May 24, as our world was 
turned upside down with the fire, which 
pretty much destroyed the one-mile 
stretch going up the mountain from 
the trailhead. We recruited a number 
of crews to work day and night to clear 
the trail of all the dirt, brush, trees and 
other detritus that fell on it during the 
fire. And much of the trail had burning 
embers still on the trail weeks after the 
blaze was put out. The trail looked like a

Hard to tell from this angle, but that 
patch of smoke was probably 3’ tall. May 
6th, 6 days after the flames were pretty 
much gone from this area. Copyright 
2008, Bill Coburn

deserted, dark moonscape, and all the 
trail workers would come back off the 
mountain looking like Pennsylvania 
miners coming off their shifts.

It was really a herculean effort, and I 
was so proud of our group of selfless 
and enthusiastic volunteers (along 
with Forestry Department staff and 
even prisoners from the California 
correctional system!). We would be 
putting on a Mt. Wilson Trail Race 
unlike any other, over terrain that would 
be completely foreign to our runners. 
But we were ready to go.

And then the rains hit We were 
expecting some rain and were actually 
looking forward to it softening up the 
trail for the race. But not damaging the 
trail the way it did, essentially cancelling 
all our hard work. Thankfully, the rain 
and mudslides did not wash out any 
sections of the trail. But the trail was 
extremely rutted and uneven due to 
the water running over it and dumping 
debris everywhere. It was in bad shape 
and extremely unsafe for both race 
participants and trail volunteers like 
Sierra Madre Search & Rescue, the Boy 
Scouts and Cub Scouts.

I remember getting a call from 
Community Services Department 
Director Michelle Keith after the hard 
rain hit, saying we could not run the 
race on day it was scheduled – too 
dangerous, particularly with the chance 
of more rain and the trail washing out. 
Clearly, there was no time for even my 
super volunteers to get the trail ready, 
but we could postpone the race a week 
or two, as long as repairs got done. 
Naturally, I was eager to reschedule it as 
soon as possible. City staff would not 
be available to work the next Saturday, 
but they would two Saturdays later. 
We settled rescheduling the race for 
Saturday, June 7, although I was worried 
we might still not have the manpower or 
time to get the job done.

But we did. There had to be 40 to 50 
men and women who we recruited, 
working like hell for two weeks to make 
the trail ready. I remember the city staff 
doing whatever it could to make sure it 
had our back. And it did. The job got 

Runners coming off the mountain the 
day of the race on June 7, 2008 came 
back to giant vertical banners hung 
in Kersting Court, listing every Sierra 
Madre Volunteer Fire Fighter and 
thanking each one. All proceeds from 
the popular post-race beer garden were 
given to the Santa Anita Fire Fund. 
Needless to say, it was a most memorable 
MWTR for everyone, and not just 
because it was the 
100th anniversary. It was because we 
fought like hell with Mother Nature to 
put this wonderful community tradition 

Public Works Response to Fire and 
Mud Prevention Follow-up

Bruce Inman, Director of Public Works, 
also contributed to the article:

SMNN: Which was the bigger 
challenge for Public Works, the fire 
or the preparation for mudslides? 
Bruce: The fire didn’t present a huge 
challenge for Public Works; Public 
Works role in a fire is largely one of 
assisting with logistics.

SMNN: How much mud was 
hauled away the following season?
Bruce: Tons and tons, cubic yards and 
cubic yards, trucks and truck… in other 
words, a lot. Although we do not have 
exact numbers, we conservatively have 
estimated 840 cubic yards or about 100 

SMNN: How many homes ended 
up being evacuated for mud?
Bruce: The City does not have a record 
of the number of homes evacuated.

SMNN: What was the cost to 
the City to prepare for mud? 
Bruce: The cost to prepare for the mud 
was over $500,000. Much of that came 
to the City in the form of a federal 
grant from USDA/Natural Resources 
Conservation Service.

SMNN: What issues for Public Works did 
you see, and how have they been addressed?
Bruce: Public Work’s biggest issue was 
the limitation on physical access to 
the mudflow-prone areas of the City, 
which hampered us in the amount of 
personnel and equipment we could 
bring to bear on cleaning up.

SMNN: What is your most 
vivid memory of the events?
Bruce: My most vivid memory was 
to be interviewed by a major TV 
News Network on Christmas Eve 
2008 following the issuance of a 
mandatory evacuation notice for that 
night. (Editor’s Note: If I remember 
correctly, steady rain was predicted for 
Christmas day 2008, but Sierra Madre 
remained relatively dry all day).

I’d like to thank City Manager Elaine 
Aguilar, Elisa Cox, Director of Public 
Works Bruce Inman, Finance Director 
Karin Schnaider, Mt. Wilson Trail Race 
Chair Pete Siberell and SMFD Chief 
Steve Heydorff for their contributions 
to this article. 

 I’d like to thank all 1055 firefighters 
from the 30- 35 agencies that responded 
with assistance during the fire. And I 
want to say thanks to the residents of 
Sierra Madre, who responded with love, 
compassion and spirit to a stressful 
incident in this City’s history that could 
have been more stressful had they 
reacted differently.

To answer the question in the headline, 
are we ready if it happens again? I 
think my response is that we won’t 
know if we are ready as a firefighting 
entity until we see the magnitude 
of the fire, but I believe that our fire 
department and our city staff have done 
what they can to be ready, and that we 
as a community have done what we can 
to be ready, and that’s important. Sure, 
not everyone in the community has, but 
I believe we have a higher percentage of 
involved and prepared people than most 
cities can boast. And that’s one of the 
reasons I believe that as a community, 
we are ready to face it, even if the next 
fire proves more destructive, we will be 
there for each other and face it together. 
Because that’s the kind of town we are, 
as we showed in 2008, as we showed 
after the windstorms of 2011, we are 
Sierra Madre, and we will help each 
other through whatever we have to.

In addition to the questions about the 
Trail Race, I asked Pete Siberell about 
some of his memories of the fire, and 
here are his responses...

SMNN: What is your most vivid 
memory of the fire, during the fire?
Pete: I have three or four vivid 
memories of the fire. I was running son 
George to a birthday party in Pasadena 
on a Saturday, I think, when he pointed 
out the fire in the hills. I never thought 
it would be the sole focus of our lives 
for the next few days. Later in the day, I 
was at Heasley Field, serving my duty as 
president of Sierra Madre Little League. 
My son had a game, I think, and the 
kids were playing while helicopters were 
scooping up water out of the settling 
basins and going back to unload it on 
the blazes. It was really surreal to see 
the helicopter veering into the basins 
while the kids were blithely playing 
and their parents hoping against hope 
everything would be OK at home, and 
the fire looking like it was never going 
to be put out. 

Later that evening, we watched the fire 
out the back of our kitchen window, 
seeing it get closer and waiting for the 
time we may have to evacuate. Finally, 
we did end up leaving the house, 
packing up two cars, two kids and two 
dogs, and found ourselves in Kersting 
Court, looking back up Baldwin 
Avenue and seeing the raging orange 
fire, realizing….we had not planned on 
this happening…thinking, what are we 
going to do now?

For a complete pictorial history of the 
fire, including video, go to:

More fire related stories can also be 
found at:


Mountain Views-News Saturday, April 27, 2013 


On Sunday April 14, 2013, the Sierra Madre Historical Preservation Society held 
its Spring program at the historic home of Donald and Guiliana Songster. Built in 
1907, the landmark residence designed by Louis B. Easton is known as the Caldwell/
Fairbank House. 

The program began with a welcome from SMHPS President Amy Putnam who 
introduced Board Members. Amy also introduced honored guests and local 
residents John Brinkmann and John Luke, publisher and editor-in-chief of American 
Bungalow magazine respectively. Both were presented with signed copies of the 
Society’s award-winning book, Southern California Story: Seeking the Better Life in 
Sierra Madre.

SMHPS Vice President Leslie Ziff presented the Songsters with a gift basket as a 
thank you for hosting the program. Board Member Norma Bachwansky shared 
information about the upcoming planting of California native plants in the new 
garden in front of the museums set for Sunday May 19th.

Richard Trader spoke about the family history of Louisa Caldwell and how she came 
to settle in Sierra Madre. Joe Catalano described the meticulous restoration efforts 
undertaken by the Songsters since they purchased the house in 1995. Homeowner 
Donald Songster related his and Guiliana’s first sighting of the house and his 
subsequent inquiry with John Brinkmann regarding the historical significance of 
the residence. Following the presentation, docents Joe Catalano, Donald Songster, 
and Richard Trader led small groups on tours of the house. The architecture and 
restoration work of the interior and exterior were discussed in detail.

Orange juice, freshly squeezed from oranges on the property, and other light refreshments were served on the back lawn. Reproductions of the March 1908 issue of The Craftsman in which an article about 
the “one room deep California house” appeared were distributed to the thirty-two people in attendance. Story and Photo courtesy SMPHS


The Volunteer Sierra Madre 4th of July Committee is seeking nominations for the 2013 4th of 
July Parade Grand Marshal. The Parade will be held as always the morning of July 4th. 

Parade Grand Marshal nominees should embody the spirit of Sierra Madre, be an active 
volunteer in any of the local nonprofit organizations or in some way contributed to the 
betterment of Sierra Madre. 


Nominations must be submitted in writing by Thursday, May 2nd and should be sent 
to the 4th of July Committee, PO Box 1073 Sierra Madre CA 91025 or emailed to 

This All-American friends and family event is made possible through the wonderful contribution 
of donors and sponsors, if you’d like to help please contact us through the information or above 
or follow us on Facebook



Passed away 
4.14.2013. Born 
10.29.1926 in 
Suffern, New York, 
he served in the U.S. 
Army Air Corps 
during WWII with 
exemplary careers 
at Ford, Chrysler 
and Beauregard 
Enterprises. Retiring 
to Montana he 
continued to pursue 
his love of horses, 
antique cars, and 
friends. Calvin is 
survived by his wife, 
Nancy, 3 children, 4 
grandchildren and 3 
great grandchildren.

A celebration of life service was held Sat, 4/20/13 1:30pm at Dahl Funeral Services.

In lieu of flowers the family requests donations choices be reviewed at 



Vanessa Withers, successful founder/owner of Historic 
Preservation Partners, a historic preservation consulting 
firm, specializes in historic properties and brings nearly a 
decade of exceptional client relations experience. Passionate 
about architecture and preservation, her meticulous 
attention to detail coupled with her warmth and personal 
skills create the perfect balance for a mutually rewarding 
experience. Holding a Master’s Degree in historic preservation 
from the University of Southern California and a 
Bachelor of Science in business administration-marketing, 
Vanessa utilizes her professional skill set and background 
in historic preservation and marketing to provide 
highly personalized and attentive service to accomplish 
her client’s goals. Born and raised in Southern California, 
Vanessa currently lives in an 1895 Folk Victorian in Monrovia, 
which she shares with her husband and daughter. 
Vanessa is a member of numerous local organizations, enjoys serving in her daughter’s school community, 
and frequents the Huntington Library, among many other local cultural venues. Vanessa 
prides herself on providing each and every client with the focus, discretion, and integrity that her 
clients have come to appreciate and expect. 


Sonia Kosker, a beloved six-year employee at Taylor’s Meat Market in Sierra Madre passed away 
peacefully at home on Friday April 19, 2013. By her side were her sister, mother and a close friend. 
Sonia passed away at the age of 52 after a lengthy battle with lung cancer.

Sonia was born in Istanbul, Turkey in 1960 and moved to California in 1981 with her father, mother 
and younger sister. Sonia is survived by her two daughters, Susan, 25 and Sesil, 23, along with her 
mother and two sisters. 

While at Taylor’s Meat Market Sonia made many loyal friends who never forgot her during her 
illness. Their generosity helped provide Sonia with quality medical care and financial support for her 
daughters. The donations of her friends have also enabled the family to hold a funeral and burial 
service at Forest Lawn to honor Sonia’s life.

The family would like to express their heartfelt gratitude to all who sent cards and gave so generously 
to Sonia during this difficult time. This support enabled Sonia to leave County Hospital and be 
cared for by a well-respected oncologist in Glendale and allowed her to have full time caregivers for 
the last days of her life. No words can ever express just how thankful the family is for the love and 
charity you showered on Sonia.

Funeral and burial services were held on Thursday, April 25, 2013 at 12:30pm at Forest Lawn 
Hollywood Hills, 6300 Forest Lawn Drive, Los Angeles, 90068. Funeral services will be in the 
Church of the Hills.