My Turn: Defensible space made the difference in Washoe Fire
August 18, middle of fire season Lake Tahoe. I am at my brother’s bedside in a Bay area hospital. My wife comes in and says her girlfriend tells her there is a fire near their home near Sunnyside, Lake Tahoe.
This is the Washoe fire.
KCRA news has the HD Helicopter shot of the fire and I can see it is going to or has already burned right over my longtime friend’s house. I call him on his cell and sure enough he tells me all will be lost and he is just then escaping down the road out of the neighbor hood. He had 30 minutes to get his stuff and leave.
His lot is at the top of a 75- to 90-percent slope facing SSE. He overlooks a forested zone out to Lake Tahoe.
My friend discovers the next morning that the two houses next to him are burnt to the foundations but is thrilled to see his house has sustained only a cracked window and smells of smoke. This home is the poster child for defensible space.
Defensible space was the difference between no home and a cracked window. I enjoyed many glasses of wine on his deck over 30 years. I had encouraged him, long ago, to modify the fuel below his house. Over the years, a bit every year, his defensible space had become a house saver.
I have been a wildland firefighter, since 1973 with the Forest service. I was not really surprised to see his house standing and the two adjacent structures toasted.
Simply, he had broken the link in the fuel chain between the wildland and his home. This had not been done by the owners of the lost homes.
Just as people cannot plead ignorance for a fire started by a catalytic converter on a car driven in dry grass they can no longer plead ignorance on defensible space.
The public wants the Government to fix it. Wake up! The Government cannot come to your back door and clean up for you. Any fire department will come out and help you visualize what needs to be done around your house. You must do this yourself.
Defensible space is a multi-edged weapon. It will protect your home. It will also protect you. Oakland Hills 1989, 65 people died trying to escape because they could not stay in their homes.
” Shelter in place” is a strategy that works, if you have defensible space. Your defensible space works even if you are not home.
The homes below burnt and spread to the forest. If defensible space round had been in place the chain of fuel from the house to the wildland would be broken or at least weakened. The liability for that homeowner would be reduced. The losses of the other homes may have been avoided. How about the personal guilt to be avoided.
What must also be highlighted is the wellbeing of firefighters. The risks that they are exposed to would be avoided. No one wants to get hurt saving a house. Every time an alarm is turned in for a wildland fire there are many more personnel put at risk then most realize. You have fire engines, water tenders, battalion chiefs, police, planes, helicopters, hand crews and they all interface with the general public getting to the fire. A lot of chances for an accident.
If you live near the forest we so dearly love, it is not a question of if this will happen to you,
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