Continuing Discussion: Obey the Gov’t Order to Evacuate vs Stand & Fight the Fires

by on October 26, 2007 · 1 comment

in Media

Continued from “Mandatory Evacuations

The Union Tribune today continued the discussion of the issue of whether residents living in the path of the wildfires should obey the government order to evacuate or whether they should stay and fight in attempts to prevent destruction to their homes. The article, by staff writers Alex Roth and Kristina Davis, acknowledged several points of interest.

First, they acknowledged that this issue arises during every wildfire season, although they cushion their view that only “a handful of homeowners” actually stand and try to fight to save their homes. Then the article goes on and describes instances where people did resist the order to leave and who successfully beat the fires back. At the top of that list, is Jeff Bowman, former San Diego City Fire Chief, who resigned after the 2003 fires when city government failed to implement the measures he believed were necessary to prepare us for these fires. Bowman stayed to beat out the embers. There’s others who were also successful.

Second, we are reminded that Thomas Varshock of Potero died trying to save his house, and that four firefighters were injured trying to rescue him and his son. But the article goes on to state how even firefighters were unwilling to dissuade people from leaving the fronts they’d established around their homes. In one instance described in the article, the resident joined the firefighters in attacking the flames. In another, the firefighters yelled encouragement to the resident digging in for the fight. They gave him a crash course in firefighting and then departed. After five hours of battle, he had won, and saved his two houses.

Third, we’re told that law enforcement admits homeowners have no legal obligation to evacuate, even under mandatory orders. Sheriff Department spokesperson Jan Caldwell is quoted: “If they do not want to leave their home, it’s their call. If they don’t want to go, it’s not a crime.” But then the spokeswoman called it a “selfish thing to do,” if people failed to flee.

Fourth, the article affirms a point made in our original post, that often after the residents are ordered to evacuate and they do, there is no one left there to protect the homes. When some residents realize this, some of them stay. Folks up in Honey Springs, it’s reported, were left to fend their 80 acre ranch by themselves. “Not one helicopter. Not a firefighter. Nothing,” one resident complained. But they saved the place with nothing more than garden hoses attached to a water tank.

As insurance companies pour in, and as the county somberly licks its wounds and we grapple with the devastation, this whole issue of whether people have the right to take the risks involved in fighting to protect their homes during wildfires will undoubtedly take a back seat to the many other issues. And undoubtedly, it will arise again during and after the next wildfire. Anyone who has lived in this county for any length of time knows, there will be another.

But let’s not forget the very practical side to this: when the wildfires approach, the burning and flying embers will be the first threats. Someone needs to be there and beat them out. It can be done. People have done it. People just did here during these fires. If everyone flees — some say in mindless obedience –, there probably won’t be anyone there to protect the homes. We don’t have enough firefighters and equipment.

And hopefully, by the next wildfire, the issue of the use of military aircraft will have already been resolved.

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Staff October 27, 2007 at 11:35 am

[Editor’s note: please see comments at end of original article, “Mass Evacuations”, posted 10/25/07]


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