Wildfire Policy for Residents Changes
• County Unveils Major Policy Modification at Local Expo
BY BILL KOENEKER
BY BILL KOENEKER
A Los Angeles County fire official said the fire expo scheduled on Saturday, Sept. 20, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Malibu Performing Arts Center will spotlight a major paradigm shift for the department—an acknowledgement that homeowners may want to stay to protect their homes during a wildfire.
“We still strongly support evacuation, but we believe you have a right to stay [during a fire disaster],” said Battalion Chief Anthony Williams.
Williams made the announcement at last week’s Malibu City Council meeting when he explained that county fire officials will now start talking about how to survive in the fire zone during a wildfire. “It is definitely a shift in our philosophy,” he said.
A fire department press release issued this week stated it is a “somewhat unprecedented move, the department will also offer a presentation featuring guidance and education directed to homeowners who become trapped and cannot evacuate or simple make their own decision to stay.”
Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman said, “For those who make a decision to stay, it must be an informed decision. They need to understand the conditions to which they can be subjected, they need to be properly prepared and equipped and, most important, they need to fully understand the risk at which they are placing not only themselves, but also firefighters.”
Williams told council members that folks who contemplate staying to protect their homes, have much to learn before they can be considered equipped to do so.
“You can’t just prepare by using some equipment and then standby. This is just a start. People will have to be versed in fire behavior, fuel modification, what to do when the fire arrives and other elements of a wildfire,” the fire department spokesperson noted. “It will be a program much like our CERT program.”
The expo will have on hand a number of experts and vendors to provide information, products, services and demonstrations.
Attendees can learn what are called the five important steps to prepare for wildland fire: Understanding one’s vulnerability, offering a defensible zone around the home, making the house ready for an oncoming fire, preparing a wildfire action plan and getting ready for evacuation.
County fire officials in the past only reluctantly acknowledged there are people, especially in Malibu, who will stay during a wildfire.
“It is important to understand that the department does not advocate a property owner’s decision to stay,” said Freeman. “We believe it is in everyone’s best interest if everyone would evacuate early and quickly. However, the sad truth is that, despite orders to evacuate, some property owners just won’t.”
It is those property owners, according to Freeman, the department is trying to reach.
Some of the vendors at the expo will offer emergency supplies, demonstrate personal protective equipment, sell fire suppression systems and emergency response vehicles.
But there is somewhat of a Catch 22, city council members discovered about the vendors and their equipment. “Do we know if any of this equipment works?” asked Councilmember John Sibert. Williams replied, “Our agency won’t make recommendations.”
The council discussed how homeowners should evaluate those products and services carefully.
Mayor Pamela Conley Ulich reiterated the refrain of the fire department and the municipality, that life should always take precedence over property.