Almanac

News - September 8, 2010

Portola Valley talk: More than one way to fight wildfire

by Dave Boyce

There is more than one way for residents in wooded communities to respond to a wildfire, according to Scott Stephens, an associate professor of fire science at the University of California at Berkeley.

Mr. Stephens is set to speak about wildfire risks at the Portola Valley community hall in Town Center at 3 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 15.

Mr. Stephens, the co-author of several white papers on wildfires, is a student of the Australian model for residents confronting a wildfire — prepare, go early or stay-and-defend — versus the typical U.S. approach in which all residents are evacuated and all the firefighting is done by professionals.

While no methodology is risk-free, Mr. Stephens and his colleagues wrote, the evacuation model can put lives in more danger; there have been cases in U.S. wildfires in which residents were warned too late or not warned at all, tried to escape, and got trapped and died in their vehicles when the fire overran them.

The Australian model has been adopted by two U.S. communities, the Painted Rocks Fire District in Montana and Rancho Santa Fe in California, one paper said, but also noted that "some California communities are so vulnerable that a 'prepare and leave early' strategy may be the only option."

Mr. Stephens' presentation, "From Australia to the Santa Cruz Mountains: fire, history, and lessons learned," is intended for homeowners, town staff and Town Council members, according to a flier from Fire Marshal Denise Enea of the Woodside Fire Protection District.

Go to is.gd/ePJhL and is.gd/ePJoq (case sensitive) to view two of several white papers at the home page of the Stephens Lab at is.gd/ePQ59.

"Dr. Stephens is a wonderful speaker on the topic of wildfire progressions in the urban interface," Ms. Enea said in an e-mail, and noted that he has testified to Congress on fire-hazard reduction.

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