During A Brush Fire: To Stay Or Not To Stay
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
Plus, in Santa Clarita, they have many things working in their
"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
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
"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.
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.