Some Refuse to Evacuate L.A. Fires

  Some Refuse to Evacuate L.A. Fires

1 September 2009

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USA — Firefighters have their hands full battling the Los Angeles area wildfires that are threatening 12,000 homes and have killed two firefighters.

And it’s not just manning fire lines and managing evacuations. They’re also forced to deal with some people who refuse to evacuate – tying up resources, firefighters say, and making their jobs even harder, as CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy reports.

When a wall of fire is coming toward your house, most people’s instinct is to run. Yet even when told to leave, and facing towering flames moving at 15 mph, some people’s instincts are different.

“I’m going to go down with the ship,” said La Crescenta resident Douglas Farr.

Farr took photos of the approaching flames. He planned to fight them with his garden hose, something his neighbors also tried.

The sheriff’s department normally issues evacuation orders when a fire is up to four hours away – enough time to pack up and leave. But this fire is unpredictable and even though, as Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Mark Savage points out, “they are called a mandatory evacuation order” – California law prohibits people being forced from their homes.

“Of course,” said homeowner Bobbi Brenneisan, “common sense at some point plays a part.”

When the flames came to Scott Handley’s stone house, he stayed inside.

“Every window you look out it’s just a solid wall of flames,” Handley recalled. “It was like a tornado with fire.”

So far no homeowners have died, but three people, including two who tried to ride out the fire in their hot tub, suffered major burns. They also tied up critical resources when they needed to be rescued.

And, Savage says, they “put our firefighters and rescuers in danger because we had to go in an area that wasn’t safe.”

That’s why some are asking whether those who stay should literally pay for their decisions.

“Should people be held fiscally responsible for causing additional resources to be exercised because you refuse to play by the rules?” posited Steve Whitmore of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department.

The Sheriff’s Department is taking down names and addresses of those who refuse to evacuate – not to punish them later on, but to notify their next of kin in case they don’t survive.

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