One Foot in the Black

Firechick's Blog


December 10
Wildland Firefighter, Pyro-Evangelist
US Forest Service
I am a wildland firefighter for the US Forest Service. The government is "touchy" about its employees expressing our opinions publicly, so I am anonymous to avoid having to deal with permission or apologies.


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FEBRUARY 19, 2012 11:43PM

I Don't Care if Your House Burns Down

Rate: 37 Flag

Well, that's not exactly true.  I care, as a human being.  I don't want people to lose their mementos, heirlooms, clothes, furniture, pets, or family in a fire.  But I also don't want one of my firefighters hurt or killed trying to protect your house from a wildfire because you haven't done your part. 


Structural firefighters, as in your municipal fire department or local volunteer fire company, come to your burning house and try to put it out.  Wildland firefighters aren't trained to fight structural fires.  We are trained to keep the forest, brush, or grass fire from getting to your house and setting it on fire.  We don't carry oxygen and are forbidden from entering a burning building.  We let our very capable brothers and sisters dressed in turnout gear and tanks do that.  We carry shovels and axes, chainsaws and rakes.  We parachute into remote mountainous forests (well, I don't.  why jump out of a perfectly good airplane?  but I have friends and colleagues who do), rappel from helicopters, hike miles into the wilderness, and also fight the fires in the wildland urban interface (WUI). 

From Wikipedia -- Wildland Urban Interface: the zone of transition between unoccupied land and human development.

So, if your house is near or adjacent to forest, grass, or brush that can support a wildfire, you live in the WUI.  Hopefully you already know this if this is you.  If so, what are you doing about it?  Are you keeping your firewood away from the house?  Are you keeping the dead leaves and needles from your roof and gutters?  Are you using native or fire resistant plants in your landscape?  Have you cleared away the brush and shrubs from against and near your house?  Instead of dry or dead grass around your house do you have rocks and/or a well-watered lawn? 

And for Pete's sake, please don't tell me you have a wooden shake roof!

Go here to learn how to protect your house from wildfire:

Because if you're not doing the above, I will not be sending one of my firefighters to save your house.  First, it's likely a lost cause.  Second, if you're not doing your part, why, frankly, should we put ourselves at even more risk?  My job is dangerous enough as it is.  How would you feel if one of my firefighters or I died trying to protect your home?  Would it be worth it to you?  Is it okay because it's our job?  I know people to whom this has happened and I'm pretty sure they would tell you they are struggling to live with that.   That their stuff was not worth someone's life.

Will this be your house?

Or will this be?


I feel bad when people lose their homes and belongings.  It has made me cry to see homes burn down.  But, not to be flippant, that is what insurance is for.  Make sure yours is paid up.  Because you may do all the above, and my firefighters may fight their asses off to save your house, and it still might burn down.   You choose to live in the WUI, and that is the trade-off for living with plants and animals and trees and nature.  As Ed Helms once said on the Daily Show, " is a hungry, hungry Bitch!"

Fire season is already upon us in some parts of the country.  And for others it's not far away.   Do the best you can to put the odds in your favor.  

Photo credits:  Top -- Robert Gauthier/LA times; Middle -- John Prendergast; Bottom -- LM Otero/AP

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Very informative! The pictures really help to emphasize your point, too. Nicely done....
Pensive -- Thanks. I'm trying to get an important message across with a bit of straightforwadness (is that a word?) and also provide some resources.
Very wise and made me really think about it even though I live in a city, I wouldn't want a person to die just trying to save my stuff. We can build or get more stuff, can't replace people.
Tough love, good advice, excellent resources... other than the one old pine growing through my deck, the closest hard core flame thrower is about forty feet up the hill. Everything else is at least 100 feet away. Not the best scenario but at least there's a decent chance at the house can survive. Since I rent there's not a lot I can do about it... keep up the good work.

Excellent information! Thank you for this.

(and straightforwadness isn't a word. I would be, however if you stuck an "r" in there in frond of the "d".) .... ;-)
Yoiks! That should be "front"...... not "frond"......
Really important message, especially the part about having homeowners insurance which is critical. And just like people who choose to live along a coastline or in hurricane prone areas, people who live in a WUL should be aware of the risks and take the proper precautions. Good post.
I like it when people who live in the flood zones wonder why their houses keep getting flooded out!!


Great piece, very informant!! RATED!
Very interesting post- authoritative yet soft at times- the pictures were helpful in visualizing what you were saying
People who choose to build luxury homes in the middle of a national forest need to take responsiblity for that choice. Thanks for posting this.
hey be safe FC . And all those who work with you.
I watch this stuff on the news and I wonder about the myopia of the people that live there. Be safe.

Did you find my PM? Mine usually go to SPAM. It's a special talent I have. ;0)
Well done. And no matter where you live, you need an escape plan. I have been remiss here with my place and family. Stuff can be replaced, people cannot. Be safe FC.
Kind of good to live in a non- wui FC. Good awareness post for many though I'm sure.
Someone was selling those "slightly used" washer and dryer on ebay.
You get the award for headline of the day. Sort of like "Ford to NY: Drop Dead."

I wrote an article on private fire companies a while back. They are virtually unknown in the east, but more common in the west. You'd have thought I advocated clubbing baby seals, but the first fire companies in America were private, created by insurance companies.
Do you mean like when I pull out the smoke alarm batteries because they won't stop chirping?

Is that bad?
I cannot argue with any of your points on this one.
•.•♥╔╗╦╦╗▄║╔╗╔╗ & ╗╔╗╔╔╗╔╗•(¯ `v´¯ )◦•*✿
•.•♥╚╗║║║╦║╠╝╚╗ & ╠╣║║║╦╚╗(¯` ❤ .¯ )✿
•.•♥╚╝──╚╩╚╚╝╚╝ & ╝╚╚╝╚╝╚╝◦.(_.^._)•*¨✫
❊¸.•*´¨`*•.¸❊¸.•*´¨`*•.¸❊¸.•*´  ¨`*•.¸❊¸.•*´¨`*•.¸❊
Have a beautiful new week with love and happiness❤¸.•*¨✫
If you had the misfortune of your home burning down, would you be able to list all your destroyed belongings and current values for an insurance claim? Many have had the additional ordeal of trying to document what they had, because the records also went up in smoke. Better to have taken photos and storing your receipts and records in a fireproof container or at least away from the house.
Hello Firechick,
I'm guessing there are many more men, than women, in your profession. I also conclude you are a woman from your handle and somethings you wrote. If you're hoping to remain anonymous, haven't you considerably shortened the list of "suspects"?

If I'm not off the mark, I suggest you adopt a masculine-sounding handle and always mention how you and the men go out for beers after a hot day's work.
Points well-taken, firechick. My house is no fire hazard, but I live on the precipice of a flood zone and got flooded by Hurricane Irene. Thank goodness we had flood insurance!
Thanks for the excellent information. This article made me think about the people who build houses on hillsides, lose them in mudslides, then rebuild in the same place. arrgh!
Everyone who lives in an area that could be affected by wildfire should read this story. The provocative title should help.
Great post FC~~My son is the asst. Chief at the local volunteer fire department and they go beyond the call of duty, getting up at all hours and even missing work to fight fires. They also take Saturdays and holidays to train. Yet, they receive no money for gas, or expenses. They do get a $200 tax deduction per year. I don't think they do it for the money, do you?
Terrible post title.....
FC, I think you've presented some good advice. People who own homes in these areas need to take part in caring for the things they can do something about, cutting out the brush, etc. No firefighters' lives should be put at risk for choices a homeowner makes when it was all preventable with some work and foresight.
Good advice, from one who knows.
People want to live surrounded by beautiful nature, but no one wants the risks. Great piece.
Wow! I posted this late last night and then got a plane early this morning to fly home. Powered up on my layover and BAM. All these comments! Thanks! I will try to respond without missing anyone.

l'Heure -- Like some folks said, every place has it's issue and it's important to have a plan. Thanks.

OMoM -- I did wonder after I saw where you live! Good job, sounds like you're doing what you can.

sky -- hahahaha, touche! And then funny that you typed "frond." :)

Margaret -- Thanks. Hurricanes, floods, fires, earthquakes, it's good to be prepared.
Tink! -- Crazy, huh? Thanks for stopping by.

Hayley -- Thanks. Inserting photos went better than I thought and I knew they would be important.

Patrick -- Yeah, some people have a sense of entitlement that someone ELSE is supposed to take care of them. Everyone has to pitch in.

rita -- thank you for the good wishes!

phyllis -- it's all over the country, too. Not just southern CA or Florida. Yes, it did go to spam (why is that? no one else's have). Responded. Thanks.
asia -- you are right. even after 9/11 I think folks in NYC realized they needed an escape plan. Thanks.

tr ig -- it has its tradeoffs. Thanks for reading.

jane -- short answer, see all the cleared area around the house? field/pasture instead of trees and shrubs? much easier to defend.

Larry -- there you are and funny as ever! I got them for a steal.

Con -- I worked with a lot of those companies when I lived out West. You're spot on. They serve a purpose, especially in the really remote areas. Sounds like you took a bit of a beating!

spumey -- yeah. that. stop doing that.
Algis -- thanks! Love the comment.

Spence -- great point!! Another way is to get out the video camera and film your house and the stuff. Yep, I'm a woman. And yes, we are way in the minority compared to the number of women. But there are still a few hundred of us so I think I'm good. Plus, I feel a little defiant about it. You're not off the mark, but I am pretty proud to be a woman in this profession, so I'll take my chances. :)

Erica -- good for you. So many didn't!

Fay -- Exactly. Often the fires burn off all the vegetation that is holding the hillside together. Then the rains come, then the hillsides come down. And yes, they keep re-building.

Mary -- Thanks. Hoping to catch people's attention.

Scanner -- Your son is my brother! We rely on the VFDs so much. And you're right, lots of work and sacrifice for little compensation. But you're also right that it's so much more than that -- community, service, camaraderie, and sometimes a thrill or two.

Just Thinking -- Wellll....seeing as how I've gotten more comments on this post than any other I've done, I think it was effective. Trying to catch people's attention.

cc -- thanks! appreciate the comment.

Matt -- Yikes. Hope I didn't offend you. Hope it all turned out in the end.

Sarah -- It's all about trade offs. Thanks.
WOW lots of info here, thanks
thank god i live in suburbia. no trees. no firewood.
uh, maybe some drunks who would
burn the house down smoking in bed
or creating a kitchen fire.

this is informative about alot. attitudes...yours are right on
the ball..someone's life is more important than
someone else's mementos of life ,
or accoutrements of comfort.

o you care when some dang fool old person 's or whatever
house burns down, i know u do.......................
Very interesting and interesting and important post - and it could save lives!
I completely agree with this sentiment and the info is very useful. A house is a house, stuff is stuff, people are sacred.
Any home is vulnerable to the elements. In our area it's hurricanes...and other than locating your home off of beachfront and barrier islands, there's not a whole lot "hurricane shutters" and other preventatives can do. We are all at the mercy of the elements. I'd never expect a firefighter or emergency personnel to risk life and limb to save our possessions.
M.C.S - Thanks for reading.

James -- ok, ok, you're right dammit. *grumbling* I DO care.

Alysa - Thanks. If it helps just one person that would be good.

Maureen -- It's true when it all comes down to it. Thanks for reading.

Bellweather -- Mother Nature almost always wins in the end. As long as we know that, fair is fair. Thanks!
I don't have anything to add...just wanted you to know I came by and had a good read!!
Simple and to the point. Well said. People need to do what they can to first help themselves and take some responsibility.
dont listen to me. save em. let their photos burn.
people too attached to their mementos.
i lost all of mine in a terrible few yrs
of homelessness and relocation.
i am bereft of my past life.
i got big sis to help me remember.
i got other big sis too..

i was rescued with only a few books to my possession.
the good ones.
Jersey Girl -- thanks for stopping by and reading!

Brianna -- You got it. Thanks.

James -- It's horrible to lose memories and things that connect us to our pasts and families and what made us who we are. I'm so glad you were saved. And the books? Bonus.
Sometimes when I think about what I'd do if my house caught on fire I think I'd use my super-human strength to launch my bookcase out the window.
You were not kidding when you said you work in a male dominated field.
Thanks, tai!

CatholicGirl -- I often have to deploy my testosterone shield.
I'm incredibly impressed that you're a firefighter. And I completely agree with you as far as people taking known risks by living in the WUI--of course I had no idea that's what it was called. It bugs me when people have to find the most remote place to live and then expect help from the rest of civilization when something goes wrong.
THANK YOU, Firechick. The perfect illustration. Jmac sent me. He brought us the link to this post. I live in CO, not far from this latest fire.
Peace to you and your fellow fire fighters.