Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Don't get burned by the experts

Ross Curtis faces prosecution in California because he and his brother, Micah, set backfires, in defiance of official orders, that successfully protected their home and the homes of their tenants.

On Thursday, the situation got particularly dicey as the fire picked up strength and bore down on their retreat, a five-minute drive up a twisting dirt road from Big Sur village.

Their small team of amateurs toiled into the night, trying to beat back flames by pumping water from the swimming pool with makeshift fire hoses.

As the fire closed in on three sides, Micah Curtis said, they used a flare to set controlled burns no more than a dozen feet from the blaze. That not only steered it away from their houses, he said, but also created a broader line of defense, which helped state and federal fire crews protect the village below.

Giving a tour of the property over the weekend, Micah Curtis bumped into a state fire captain doing mop-up work with an inmate crew.

The captain, who asked not to be identified because of the controversy, praised the work of the amateurs of Apple Pie Ridge.

"I'll tell you what," the captain told him, "you guys did a good job of holding it."

Praise also came from other professionals.

"Awesome," a U.S. Forest Service crew leader said, shaking his head in disbelief. "You did an awful lot of work up here."
Note that firefighters had abandoned the 55-acre Curtis spread to its fate as "undefendable" and that the backfires were set when the wildfire was already approaching and threatening the property. Under the circumstances, it's hard to take seriously the authorities' contention that the Curtis brothers created some sort of extra risk through their actions. In fact, the Curtis brothers saved homes while structures not under their protection burned.

Ross Curtis's prosecution may be exceptional, but his attitude is not. The San Francisco Chronicle documented broad dissatisfaction among Big Sur residents with the quality of the protection they received from the "experts."

Sequoia Chappellet, 23, said she and her sister, along with several cousins and other extended-family members, were evacuated from Big Sur two days ago, but her parents and brother stayed with the home. She said some homeowners had hired private firefighting services and even private helicopters to provide protection.

"There's a general feeling that if you want your house to be saved, you'd better stay and save it," Chappellet said. "There's a lot of frustration in the community about the lack of resources that have been administered to the fire. That's part of the reason so many people are staying. When they go on the highway, they don't see any engines."
More than a few residents defied evacuation orders and stayed behind to protect their property when the powers-that-be made it clear they were writing off whole areas. Police responded by demanding signed waivers and next-of-kin information -- and people still stayed.

In the end, Ross Curtis's arraignment on July 15 on two misdemeanor charges for disobeying orders to stop his efforts to save the property seems less about creating a hazard than about making the experts look inadequate to the job -- and replaceable by individual effort.

Making government officials look bad is the highest crime there is



Anonymous Lori said...

Of course they have to be charged. If the firemen there are like they are here, they are all pyromaniacs. And they don't like anyone setting fires that they should be setting. Much like why cops hate civilians with guns.

July 10, 2008 6:02 AM  
Anonymous The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit said...

You realize, of course, that the "solution" to this problem is going to be to make "evacuations" mandatory, at gunpoint if necessary. Can't have those private efforts making the Pros From Dover look bad, right?

July 10, 2008 9:19 AM  
Blogger Thomas said...

I was down at the fires helping a local as a hired hand when I heard about this story. People can say what they want in these situations but it won't make a difference. What if in fact the backfires didnt work and had possibly reversed, destroying the homes and killing those who set them? Yes, sometimes experts are quick to jump by saying things are too late to save but that is because they HAVE looked at the risk vs. reward of every possible option. It's a simple equation that when the risk is much greater than the reward, it is not worth it.

Also, another reason this particular fire got out of hand so quickly is because of the Big Sur residents and community. Sudden oak death, dead and dry redwoods, brush, etc. are no longer fuel, they become accelerants to the fire (might as well dump gasoline on it). Everything that exists there is because of the lack of natural fires (considering most get stopped pretty quickly) and absolutely no control over the forest. This is due to the community being so adamant about nature.

I'm sympathetic to those who have lost homes (I myself have been threatened from the Fort Ord "control" burns that got out of hand), but everything that occurred has roots of fault in the residents of Big Sur, and firefighting in every regard should be left to those who have been trained and educated in the subject.

August 2, 2008 3:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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March 19, 2009 1:16 AM  

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