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Fire Captain Credits Defensible Space With Saving Home

NORTH FORK When the fire came racing toward their house, destroying everything in its path, the family grabbed what they could, loaded their pets and raced down the driveway ahead of the flames.

They watched from a distance as it flashed through their property, trees torching out ahead of the wall of fire.

Days later when they returned to survey the damage and found their home still standing, they got confirmation of what firefighters already know – defensible space does work.

“They really had good clearance, and that is truly what saved their houses,” says Jeff Biesenthal, Station Captain at the Coarsegold Cal Fire Station, who was first on scene with his crew, along with Madera County Fire Engine 10 out of Yosemite Lakes Park.

Fire burns up to the fence“When the flame front was coming through, we would not have been able to make it up to those houses,” says Biesenthal of the Corrine Fire that scorched 920 acres just south of North Fork. “That fire kept jumping all our lines, and it came flying up the hill at them, but they had things cut down enough that it gave them that fuel break.”

When firefighters were finally able to make access up the driveway, the vegetation was burned on both sides of the road. However, once the fire ran out of fuel near the houses on the property, it just crept through a few patches of low, dead grass right up to the side of the garage, leaving a woodpile smoldering at one house, and scorching a wooden ladder leaning up against a shed at another.

Space behind the garageFire needs fuel, and when the Corrine Fire arrived at these houses, and found there was no fuel there, it passed around on both sides and moved on.

The fire danger and fire behavior this year are unlike many fire officials have ever encountered, and residents are warned to do what it takes to create defensible space around their homes.

“This is early in the season,” says Capt. Biesenthal. “Fires don’t normally move like that at night. Fire suppression at nighttime is normally a little easier, so for it to be moving like that at 3 a.m. shows you how low fuel moistures are right now.”

Behind the garageBiesenthal sees the survival of these homes as a clear lesson that defensible space does work, and it’s critical, not only the safety of firefighters, but for residents who want to find their homes still standing when they return.

“There’s no amazing hero story here, me up there knockin’ it down,” says the Captain. “Wish I could tell that, but no, this is a defensible space story. It works. Having that good clearance around their property really made the difference, and that’s what saved their homes.”

Can firefighters defend your home? To learn more, click here.

Cal Fire has a wealth of information on how to be prepared for wildfire at http://www.readyforwildfire.org.

To learn how to harden your home against wildfire, visit http://firewisemaderacounty.org/

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