May 28, 2007

Firefighters should not die for property

The Forest Service is re-thinking trying to save homes in the "urban interface," at least in California, where five firefighters died last year trying to save a vacant house in the Esperanza Fire.

As another fire season heats up, some Forest Service officials say a shift in strategy is inevitable as firefighters increasingly risk their lives defending communities that have been built in prime fire territory.

"We are not going to die for property," said Tom Harbour, national director of fire and aviation management for the Forest Service. "It's time for homeowners to take responsibility for the protection of their homes.

This issue hits close to home. I remember the fire departments that turned out during the Mason Gulch fire two years ago. An engine and crew from Castle Rock, Colorado, which is about 75 miles north of here, spent a day at our house. They dug a hand line around the house, put all the porch furniture in the garage, and then, fortunately, did not have to do anything else. (See July 2005 archive for more about the fire.)

As the article points out, not doing anything when danger threatens runs contrary to the ethos of firefighting, but so does being trapped by wildfire when fighting a structure fire.

There was a story from 2002's Hayman Fire southwest of Denver of some urban firemen fleeing with hoses dragging behind their fire engine, when the woods on all sides started burning while they were concentrating on a house.

We most likely will be hearing more about this issue.

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