During A Brush Fire: To Stay Or Not To Stay

During A Brush Fire: To Stay Or Not To Stay

12 February 2009

published by www.hometownstation.com

USA — In wake of Australian wildfires, LA County Fire Department is setting the record straight on staying past evacuation orders.

Continuing in our “A Word With The Captain” series, KHTS sat down with Los Angeles County Fire Captain Dave Petersen, who runs fire station 124 in Stevenson Ranch.

The meeting followed several days of news from Australia, where massive fires have destroyed entire towns and killed 181 people. Over there, many of the residents attempted to defend their homes, but when the fires became too dangerous, they fled at the last minute. That resulted in confusion and deterred firefighting efforts.

Nonetheless, such a question has always plagued homeowners when the flames of a brush fire threaten their homes. It’s not against the law to defy evacuation orders, grab a hose and fight, but in doing so, you could be putting yourself and your home into more danger than if you left.

“If we ask you evacuate, it’s not something we do up front,” said Capt. Petersen. “We really think about it, and when we get to that point, it’s fairly serious.”

During a brush fire, firefighters are shifting resources, and they are analyzing weather and topography data, whereby they can determine where the fire is headed and how fast it’s coming.

If they have evacuated you, then it is likely that they have already called for structure protection units and are making plans to defend your home.

Plus, in Santa Clarita, they have many things working in their favor.

“In this area, the greenbelt and construction of the homes, those factors afford your house a really good opportunity to survive on its own,” Capt. Petersen said.

When homeowners stay, fire crews have to worry about saving lives and protecting homes. If you become endangered, firefighters will be forced stop protecting your home and instead save you.

As in the Australian fires, leaving at the last minute can create a much more confusing and chaotic situation than if the firefighters were there alone.

“The Australian plan is that a lot of people are urged to stay and defend their property,” he said. “At a certain point, things get so bad that they panic and have to leave. And that’s what’s killing a lot of the people, is when they try to escape once the fire is really hitting their residential area.”

When the time comes, Capt. Petersen says that every homeowner has to make a decision one way or the other, but they must take all of the consequences into account.

“If you decide that you’re not going to heed our warnings and our requests to evacuate; once you make that decision to stay, you need to stay,” he said. “We have the additional traffic coming down the streets that we’re trying to maneuver in and we’re trying to set up our defense lines, and it gets complicated by the general public trying to leave an area that they thought they were going to stay and defend.”

While the decision seems like an easy one now, Capt. Petersen knows that when an emergency is at hand, the decision can be very difficult.

“I understand wanting to stay and defend your home…I mean, it’s your home,” he said.  “But we also take a really strong view on safety, and on the value of your home. We take it really personally if any of your property is damaged. It’s not an easy thing for us to walk away from a home that has burned in a brush fire. It’s a great loss to us too.”

How to help protect your home:

 “Make your house a standalone, defensible home,” says Capt. Petersen.

 In doing that, make sure you clear brush away from the perimeter of your home, appropriate to your area. Obviously, more rural homes like those in Sand and Placerita Canyons need to take more precautions than those in a suburban tract neighborhood.

If a fire does threaten your home, work with the fire department. If they order evacuations, take those seriously and get out. The fire department is far better trained and equipped than the general public.

Look for the next installment of “A Word With The Captain,” next week where we will talk about which specific types of trees and plants can help protect your home, and which can put it in more danger.

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