Monday, October 22, 2007

California homeowners hamper fire fighting efforts

Wildfires can be the great equalizer.

As of this afternoon, 250,000 people were being evacuated because of California wildfires. This includes homeowners, hospital patients, school children, jail convicts and Hollywood stars.

It doesn’t matter whether you live in an opulent Malibu castle, or in the most modest of mobile home parks, when fire hits you can potentially lose everything, not just valuables but also items of precious memories or with sentimental ties.

It also doesn’t matter how rich or poor you are: when you’re told to evacuate, you must do it as quickly as possible.

California’s wildfires in the last few days have shown what can be some of the challenges when fire moves quickly with almost hurricane-strength winds and people aren’t prepared, or people feel so tied to their property that they put their lives and the lives of others in danger.

According to an Associated Press story, stubborn homeowners became a problem. “In many cases, crews couldn’t begin to fight the fires because they were too busy rescuing residents who refused to leave, fire officials said.”

AP quoted fire official Bill Metcalf, chief of the North County Fire Protection District: “They didn't evacuate at all, or delayed until it was too late. And those folks who are making those decisions are actually stripping fire resources.”

Wildfires are nothing new, but the California fires have drawn international attention because of how swift the fires spread and where the fires are — such as the nicknamed billion dollar beach in Malibu — and who is affected.

Hopefully when the smoke has disappeared and people are allowed to return home, no matter where they live they will retain the lessons learned from this tragedy on how more needs to be done to prevent fires, and that everyone needs to be prepared for if and when a fire comes again.

Firefighters shouldn’t have to risk their lives to save people who, through stubbornness and wanting to protect possessions, may have risked many other lives — including their own.

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