Should California try Australia’s ‘Prepare, Stay And Defend’ against wildfires?

Even as debate rages over the safety of Australia’s “Prepare, stay and defend, or leave early” policy of wildfire defense, fire researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and in Australia say that the strategy is worth consideration in California and other regions in the United States.

Questions about the policy, which encourages able residents to stay home and actively defend their property from wildfires, are being renewed in the wake of Australia’s devastating fires, which began on Feb. 7 and killed 210 people, burned down 1,800 homes and scorched 1,500 square miles of land.

“The key element of Australia’s policy is to train willing homeowners to protect their homes in an active wildfire,” said Scott Stephens, associate professor of fire science and co-director of UC Berkeley’s Center for Fire Research and Outreach. “What the Australian strategy does is actively engage and help homeowners to become part of the solution rather than just to need evacuation. However, it should be noted that some California communities are so vulnerable that a ‘prepare and leave early’ strategy may be the only option.”

In contrast to Australia, the researchers said, fire agencies in California focus primarily on mandatory evacuations followed by fire suppression. Not only has this approach not reduced property loss, it could increase the risk for people if the evacuations are carried out at the last minute.

Something I have to consider. Our little community comprises about a hundred families on prairie grasslands a few miles outside of Santa Fe. The municipal airport is closer to hand than the county volunteer department.

Given perpetual wind, any fire could sweep into nature’s tradition and even the regrown bosque alongside the Santa Fe River could increase the danger.

Knowing my neighbors, half of us are owner-builders, we’d rather stay and fight.

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