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Fire chiefs consider stay-and-defend plan

January 13, 2009 1:06:03 PM PST
Fire chiefs in Orange County and Ventura County are considering a plan to allow residents to defend their own homes during wildfires.The Ventura County Fire Department and Orange County Fire Department both say they stand behind the concept of "leave early or stay and defend."

Fire officials acknowledge the risk involved in the plan, but they say that if residents are armed with education, they can safely defend their own homes in the midst of a wildfire.

The images of flames heading toward a Yorba Linda neighborhood are still fresh in mind of resident Jim Holmes.

"I was evacuated, and I tried to get back up into our area, and they wouldn't let me come back," Holmes said.

He said he would have lost his home in last November's wildfires if it weren't for his neighbors, who decided to stay and fight the flying embers on their own.

"If it wasn't for their efforts, I mean, we could have lost our homes," Holmes said.

Stories like these have fire agencies across the state considering the leave early or stay and defend plan, a strategy that has proven successful for fire departments in other parts of the world.

Battalion Chief Kris Concepcion from the Orange County Fire Authority said the concept has worked in Australia for the last 20 to 30 years.

"What we're doing is we're taking that concept, modifying it as it pertains to us here in the United States," he said.

Concepcion also said that since so many homeowners refuse to evacuate, it makes sense to develop a plan to help protect their homes in the safest way possible.

Educational tools are already in the works to teach residents about fire-resistant products for their homes and the importance of defensible space.

But not everyone is sold on the idea.

The president of the United Firefighters of L.A. city Pat McOsker said in a statement, "People will make the decision to stay and then when the 40-foot wall of flames comes toward them, they will want to get out, and we will have a disaster."

Orange County fire officials say that's where education comes in.

Top fire officials from across Southern California will meet Wednesday to discuss the possibility of implementing this type of evacuation policy.


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