Saturday, July 19, 2008

Apple Pie Ridge

I was first introduced, so to speak, to the Curtis brothers, owners of 55 acres known as the Apple Pie Ridge not far from the town of Big Sur CA while reading this entry from the Cachagua Store blog. Briefly, the Curtis brothers with the help of family, friends, and tenants set back fires and other fire fighting techniques and were successful in defending their homes from being burnt down by the fire. They did so because they were told that firefighters would be able to defend their homes from the fire. Their success came at a cost with the younger brother being arrested for arson.

The LA Times has a very good article about the Curtis Brothers, Micah and Ross, in the July 7 edition of the paper. I am accessing this article on July 19 and I'm not certain how much longer it will be freely available.

Reading these accounts of the defense of Apple Pie Ridge got me thinking. If I had heard national news media accounts of the defense of Apple Pie Ridge and the arrest of Ross Curtis for arson, I might have been horrified because what they did would have been completely foreign to me. I heard no such reports, nor have I been able to find any on the web. I am not horrified, quite the contrary. I found myself thinking about the courage and strength of character displayed by the Curtis family, their friends and tenants. They are the kind of people that I would want as neighbors.

Before closing I want to say that members of the Curtis family will be the first to tell you that they are not advising people to set backfires to save their homes from forest fires. Tyson Curtis, Micah's son commenting on an article on the LA Times article has this to say (comments made on July 11 from 3:01 PM to 3:25 PM PDT):

I have so much to say, but i'll be as succinct as possible. To those in favor of what we did: I DO NOT advise people to defend their homes and set back fires... we had two experienced fire fighters with us that understood the technique, and this is evidence in their flawless execution of fighting fire with fire. In fact, since we know every inch of our property I'm sure we executed our back burns better than any fire fighter could.

Second, this was more leading the fire than back burning, we were burning ahead of the fire only when it was several hundred feet from us... and so there was NO chance anyone was between us and that fire. Also, this made the fire burn down hill, instead of up, which kept the fire under control and actually put LESS fire fighters and neighbors at risk because it burned slower and more manageably.

I would like to thank the one fire crew who came up thursday morning and helped direct the back burn that we set in motion... (while we were cutting hand lines on the back side of the ranch where the fire was making a second assault) but as for the higher ups... well this is the third time our ranch has burned over, and i have little faith you'll be there when my kids are fighting the next one.

And a lot of people seem to think we waited until the last second to cut brush and clear around our houses; this isn't true. We cut brush every winter and maintain fire clearance around our ridge top... but in steep terrain flames can clear three or four hundred feet of clearance. The clearing we were doing before the fire was added precaution and when the fire crews showed up to evaluate our ranch it was nearly clear cut; they STILL thought it was indefensible... and were obviously wrong.

And as for burning down our neighbors houses, the main fire was coming, and if we hadn't taken action in a way that we could control the fire... it could have been disastrous for our neighbors. The proof of this is that everyone i've seen has thanked me for stopping the fire on top of our ridge, and not a single person has questions our means of doing so. Unless you know the terrain you wouldn't understand what we did... any fire fighter should know that!

The fire burned all the way to highway one a mile south and north of us... and it would have done just that here too, which would have threatened the seven homes at the bottom of our ridge.

(obtained from http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-backfire-gb,0,2173086
.graffitiboard on 19, July 2008)


Copyright 2008 K. Tyler Miller

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