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I realize another portion of my anger is a pre-sentiment — unjustified, I hope — that the dead will be held fully accountable while others may not.
And others may indeed be accountable. The mission of the Granite Mountain crew was to help protect structures in the rural community of Yarnell. Over the past couple decades, increasing numbers of residences in the wildland-urban-interface (WUI) have more often become the focus of wildland fire-suppression efforts. Fires that used to be relatively low-key, or even allowed to burn, are now aggressively attacked in order to save buildings.
The WUI is a dangerous place to work, not least because firefighters tend to take more risks in order to save homes. In 2006, five Forest Service firefighters were killed defending a house from a fire in California.
Such operations should not even be necessary. If residents of the WUI took the time and effort to prepare their property for the impingement of wildfire, high-risk defense by fire crews would not be required.
No one should die for a building. An old firefighter proverb goes: If you die on the fire ground, you’d better have a civilian in your arms.
The Firewise and Fire Adapted Communities programs — applicable and available nationwide — offer excellent guidance for individuals and communities in making their property a low-risk locale. I don’t know how much, if any, mitigation the citizens of Yarnell accomplished to defend themselves and their property, but if my experience is any guide, I suspect it wasn’t much.
The wildland fire service documented its lessons as a result of the Human Factors Workshop in 1995. We know what to do. It’s time for the residents of the WUI to catch up — to learn what to do. The knowledge is out there.
Peter M. Leschak, of Side Lake, Minn., is the fire chief in French Township and is a fire technician for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Over 32 years, he has worked more than 870 incidents in 13 states and one Canadian province.
The Opinion section is produced by the Editorial Department to foster discussion about key issues. The Editorial Board represents the institutional voice of the Star Tribune and operates independently of the newsroom.