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From the July 2013 Battle Mountain News

posted Jul 6, 2014, 4:43 PM by Joe Christy

More Thoughts on Evacuation vs. Defense

On the 5th anniversary of the Martin Fire, Steve Sohl's little slice of Heaven post on saving his home, the Black Forest Fire near Colorado Springs, and an article in the journal Fire Technology on experiences and strategies in Australia, Montana, and Southern California spurred me to linger on the subject of last month's article. My three-part theme goes by many names: “Prepare, Go Early or Stay and Defend”; “Prepare, Act, Survive”; or our California slogan, “Ready, Set, Go”. “Prepare, Go Early or Stay and Defend” is most descriptive, but still a mouthful, so I'll use P/GE/SD. The essence of P/GE/SD is that: 1) We prepare ourselves, our homes, and our properties well before a wildfire. When there is a wildfire, we decide and commit to either 2) Go Early, or 3) Stay and Defend our homes.

P/ I've often written on preparing our homes and landscaping against ignition in the ember blizzard accompanying a wildfire that poses the greatest threat to property. We also need to prepare for the decision and, once made, commit to it.

/GE/ Only vigorous adults have any business anywhere near a wildfire. The two civilian fatalities in the Black Forest Fire were people preparing to evacuate at the last minute. This is the rule rather than the exception. Of the 552 wildfire fatalities in Australia over the last 110 years, the plurality, 32% were the result of late evacuation. In the Oakland firestorm, 25 of 26 people died trying to flee through thick smoke on narrow winding roads, blocked by other cars & by downed wires. All but two major roads in Bonny Doon are too narrow to accommodate fire engines entering and residents leaving at the same time. You need to commit to Go Early. You need to know in advance what you'll take, where it is, where you'll go, how you'll get there, and when you'll return.

/SD Rancho Santa Fe, near San Diego, was specifically built and landscaped to resist ember ignitions. Along the west fork of the Bitterroot River in Montana, an older, isolated community was successfully retrofitted to the same end. Rancho Santa Fe planned for Shelter in Place; along the Bitterroot they call it Stay and Defend. Like Steve Sohl, able bodied adults stay with water supplies, hoses, buckets, &c ready and use them to extinguish spot fires before the flame front arrives. For the two minutes or so that it takes the flame front to pass, they retreat and shelter indoors to escape the fatal heat of the front itself. Like the Martin Fire, the wind in the Black Forest Fire reversed itself. Black Forest had fire safe vegetation management, but was more densely built up than the Martin Road neighborhood, more akin to the Nichols developments here in Bonny Doon. The very first homes in Black Forest ignited from blown back embers after the flame front passed. Once structures ignited, they set neighboring structures aflame. Burning structures pose a greater fire threat than burning vegetation. In order to successfully Stay and Defend you must, like Steve Sohl & his neighbors, be ready and able to spend hours suppressing spot fires after the flame front. The closer your neighbors, the more difficult this will be. In most cases, Stay and Defend needs entire neighborhoods to prepare together, in advance.

Summer Event Scheduled For August 17!

For the anniversary of the Lockheed Fire, the Fire Safe Council will be hosting our Summer Event in the Cotoni Redwoods, opposite Braemoor and Crest Ranch. There will be short guided walking tours of the older Warrenella shaded fuel break, where the Lockheed Fire was stopped and of the fuel break built this year along upper Empire Grade. Firefighters on the Warrenella and the Fire Safe Council will discuss shaded fuel breaks. Watch for more details next month.


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