Community Wildfire Initial Attack Q:



Brand new here so please treat me gently :slight_smile:

There is a very good article floating around that has identified an additional 500 communities at greater risk from wildfire than Paradise in California alone.

500 Community Wildfire Report

My question is if all of you super experienced and local people that are affected by wildfire would support a global charity that was dedicated to providing equipment allowing an initial attack to wildfire response in the community including insurance pre-loss etc, and education.

So all of the benefit and equipment is local, but part of a national/international brand that is doing the same irrespective of the location. This would be dedicated just to wildfires and not a general firehouse that deals with all of the other fire responses that require huge amounts of continuous training and equipment etc - if the grass is on fire you go - if its anything else - the local EMS fire department responds accordingly! All controlled by the dispatchers at the end of the phone on 911

Using volunteers trained to FF1/FF2 as a minimum etc but solely focused on wildfire initial attack with the correct brush / all-terrain truck or new technology vehicles.

The aim being that any vegetation fire in especially rural communities without either a full time or volunteer fire department could actually try and contain a vegetation fire before it exceeds 10 acres and ideally, be fully suppressed within 1 hour - thus preventing it developing into a ‘wildfire’.

Lightning strikes on steep-sided terrain that start fires are a bit out of scope here, but I’m just trying to understand if you think there is the appetite for more to be done locally in the community before it gets out of hand?

A vehicle, firehouse, PPE kit and other elements required without the training side should be under $500,000 USD per base - then add volunteers etc on a beeper/pager basis would be able to hopefully prevent them becoming wildfires.

This plan would need to be with the full support of the state/county etc and train with other agencies etc as well as comply with all NFPA / NWCG rules etc.

So just a question - and any constructive comments welcomed…

Background to the question:

Close family friends were residents of Paradise, they had lived there and been well aware of the risks as they had lived through scares many times before. Grab bag was ready, they could smell the smoke and followed the instructions given. Husband had moved his mother up from Oregon just 3 months prior to live on the same site in Paradise so that he could provide greater care… He had a very busy period getting his mother, wife and a couple of items in the car. By the time they were halfway down the hill, they could see the flames licking at the site - 10 minutes later nothing was left! They were very very lucky.

They have moved back to Oregon.

I can’t help but think that instead of waiting till the fire is out of control and then calling aircraft and helicopters which is now costing over $3 Billion USD per annum for throwing water at the ground, that a rethink is needed on how suppression is dealt with in the immediate phase of identification/notification of a vegetation fire?


First of all, welcome to the forum.

Your question is actually a very good one but the answer or perhaps solutions are much more complex.

There are certainly technology aspects involved in the notification process. Some of those are already being implemented but take time to fully deploy. Reverse 9-1-1, where by calls from the local PSAP (Public Safety Access Point) are generated to the local residents in the affected area. This is often an automated call. Secondly, the NextGen 9-1-1 networks are going into place that allow 9-1-1 texting, cell phone location indentification and ultimately access to the cell camera for video of the situation.

Some of the technology for immediate threats are already in place. As you will see on many of the incidents on this forum, there is a camera network being deployed which enables real-time access to fires in their early stages to enable much quicker responses with more accurate locations.

However, technology is only a small component of the overall solution. People who live in the Wildland Urban Interface areas have to become more responsible for their own immediate surroundings. Too many people do not take defensible space fuel reduction seriously. Often, people become zealous about it for a year or two after a devastating fire in the area but soon the attention wanes because it is a lot of work to maintain that vital clearance. In Southern California, one technique that is being quite effective is the use of green belts around new subdivisions which provides a fire resistive buffer between the housing and the native vegetation.

In the case of the Camp Fire in the Paradise area specifically, the early hours of that incident, there were two factors which precluded the use of aircraft, particularly fixed wing. The incident began at 06:30, which does not provide enough light for the aircraft to safely began work. By 09:00 when the aircraft were on line, much of the devastation was already in progress. Secondly, the extremely high winds which were a major contributor to the rapid advancement of the fire front were well above the effective levels for aircraft to fly and begin building retardant lines. Apart from the safety factors for the aircraft, the retardant drops are completely useless as the wind defuses the drop, rendering it totally ineffective. Helicopters were used but provide only limited water drops in targeted areas.

Another area of focus that is vital and was a major factor on the Camp Fire is ingress and egress routes. It is a well documented fact, that the Paradise City Council did not take the Grand Jury report seriously and instead reduced the lane spacing for the addition of bike lanes and aesthetics. This changed the ability of people to exit the area as well as access in for all responding personnel.

One thing that is critical to understand, is that in a major incident such as the Camp Fire and the 2017 October Fires in the Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties is that our first priority is to the safety of the general public. This reduces the number of personnel who are working on suppressive efforts, which does allow the fire to gain more energy and become more destructive. Keep in mind that the first responding units were on scene of the Camp Fire in the area within 10 min of the reports of the fire but due to the location of the fire, access was extremely difficult. A major resource order was placed by the first on scene and during the initial size-up.

To sum this all up, there are many factors in play for your question. Technology is being deployed, but there really wasn’t a delay in reporting or identifying that an incident was in motion for the Camp Fire. In my mind, one of the very biggest factors, is that the people who do choose to live in the WUI, have to be more prepared and responsible for their own safety. Don’t wait to be told to leave, learn the signs of a potential disaster. High winds, low humidity, lots of smoke are good indicators to get yourself on the move, especially if you are downwind from where the smoke is.


Two good posts. Lots to take in here.

You can spend days around a table talking over these topics.

A few simplistic thoughts.

Most everyone has risks where they choose to live. The WUI is no different. Those that live there should wake up everyday thinking this could be the last day I see this place and be focused on the safety of self, family, friends and neighbors. Get out.

Community planning, clearance and communications. This is your best hope. Not just about homes, but more importantly how to get the hell out.

When Mother Nature wants to be in charge, she will be in charge. It doesn’t matter what tools you have in the box, or how many of those tools you have. When she’s in charge, nothing on the ground or in the air is going to stop her. Nothing. You may poke at her, you may out think her, you can plan out ahead, but you’re not going to stop her when she gets with it.


I will then old adage “An ounce of Prevention is worth a pound of cure”. Simpley put, had people take seriously the Prevention measure around their homes, less homes would have burned. Defensive Space in California is 4" or less from the house out 30’. Then remove, modify the remaining Vegetation from 30’-100’ feet. Had those guidelines been followed, less destruction would’ve occurred.

I have spoken with several Insurance Agents (Farmers, State Farm) they are now refusing to insure homes at the top of ridges, end of Cul-da-sac’s, without 200’ or 300’ of clearance. While I don’t agree 100% with this approach, it is getting people to take action as they can’t afford to insure their property.

I agree 100% about the Prevention & Fuels reduction work. However, getting people to take action, pay attention to the need, let alone pay for it in 2019. Is a long shot at best.

I think the free market, uninsurable properties will begin to do more than the government. Finally, EVERYONE must realize this problem is over 100 years in the making. I just hope it take less than half that time to correct.


To touch on this bit, creating a tertiary firefighting force, (third to existing volunteers and then fulltime firefighters), would probably not do well with our current insurance and litigious society. Today if someone broke a fingernail they would look to sue someone, anyone. It’s sad we can’t take personal responsibility as a community/society.

There’s lots of hidden logistics to expanding a volunteer base like this.

  • Training costs, and maintaining training.
  • Communications costs (pagers, radios, programming them etc.).
  • Liability costs.
  • Equipment inventory and maintenance (from hoses to PPE to the dang Engine itself if there’s an engine).
  • Vehicle access, think about the page going out, and now 20-40-50 additional personal vehicles are swimming upstream the evacuees to the engine base and/or the “front line”, adding traffic for first responders to drive around, where will they park?
  • People and Politics. Ewww. More opinions, more ideas, more politics in a group that probably won’t have the organizational structure/ranking of a volly or full-time dept.
  • It’s a rare and special breed to put others before self. How many firefighters, law, medics lost their homes in Camp Fire, while they were directing traffic in the middle of Skyway or saving some other house? Will this group be of that breed, or will they fight to have “the engine” at their own house?
  • When do these tertiary responders become victims for primary and secondary responders to handle?

Have I convinced you yet this might not be a good idea? Now, supporting an EXISTING volunteer fire department, where the infrastructure/organization/rules are already in place?! HECK YEAH! They could use all the help they could get, either with warm bodies ready to serve and stay committed, or with financial help directly or indirectly.


Hi Keith,

Thank you very much for the detailed and complete response, I think taking everything on board and trying to eek out the soundbites of what I was trying to say is that there is just not enough true off-road / all terrain high capacity vehicles that can make a difference in the early stages. The Camp fire as you say was a due to a ‘hooning’ wind racing it up the hill at nearly 40 knots - that coupled with embers, and the ROS is such that little in the world was going to stop it - but the critical point is evidenced in hundreds and hundreds of photos - in that most fire engines are not off-road or indeed have sufficient water capacity to make a difference when they are ‘off-road’.

The cameras and intelligence for response is indeed getting better by the day and as fast as they can network them to triangulate the exact position geo data the better.

Fuel management in the WUI and defensible space is 100% a big education piece to deliver, but its not the silver bullet I don’t think due to the thousands of variables.

Massively appreciate your time to respond and huge respect for your knowledge and operational understanding in helping me know more from a different perspective.




Have I convinced you yet this might not be a good idea? Now, supporting an EXISTING volunteer fire department, where the infrastructure/organization/rules are already in place?! HECK YEAH! They could use all the help they could get, either with warm bodies ready to serve and stay committed or with financial help directly or indirectly.


Hi norcalscan,

Thanks for your reply also - if supporting an existing volly would be supported the most then we would want to support them with specific wildfire vehicles that are true off-road and all-terrain save for steep hillsides, the typical type 3 brush truck is an excellent swiss army knife of a truck but its very limited indeed compared to new technology that is coming online and available - they could be given true off-road capability with 4000+ gall capacity and ability to lay down wetting agent/retardent etc. This is when I think a difference in the early stages can be made.

However no idea if that can even be achieved even if the vehicles are NFPA 1901/1906 compliant?


So, there are some dynamics in motion with your approach. The idea of a 4000 gal off road vehicle is going to have some limitations, just like other apparatus. Many bridges in the rural parts of CA are rated at 26,000 lbs. less, so weight becomes a significant factor to consider. The State (CalFire) who also performs fleet management and specifications for some county agencies such as Napa County Fire, is moving away from the larger capacity water tenders primarily due to the lack of manueverability and the weight. There is a high degree of trade offs involved in wildland equipment and placement. The larger the piece of equipment is, the less manueverable it is so it takes longer to insert it into an effective and safe point. Also, once a piece of equipment is off a maintained road, the greater degree of risk of slipping off the road, either from a tight turn or poor road bed compaction and natural erosion. These are key elements of consideration for the command staff as well as the operator when inserting any piece of equipment into a hot line area. Effective safety zones and retreat are also elements in those decisions. As for tracked vehicles such as skid-gens or similar, they are effective to a degree but they are slow moving relatively speaking and require a transport vehicle to bring them to the incident. In a fast moving fire such as the Camp Fire, it would be unlikely that they could keep pace to be effective. Placement ahead of the main fire could provide some assistance but again in the case of the Camp Fire, ingress into the areas where they could be effective becomes an issue.

As you poke around this form, you will see a fairly lengthy discussion about the new Cal OES Type 6 engines that are being ordered.

There is absolutely no single magic silver bullet for any of this but the biggest and probably the most difficult element to control is that the people who live in the WUI area, have to become more invested in their own defensible space. Those who are diligent about their clearance stand a far better chance of retaining their home and possessions. Preparation also includes a primary and secondary exit plan if there is a situation that requires rapid exit. If available a third exit strategy is a good to have as well.

Unfortunately, it has been my experience that there is a tremendous lack of common sense in people who have left the urban living environment to a more rural living situation. Those of us that grew up in rural setting are raised to understand that wildland fires are a fact of life and that we remain prepared for it at all times but the urban transplants have a much more difficult time relating to that fact.

My advice is to be prepared, both physically and mentally, then as calmly as you can exit the area quickly and not wait to be told to do so. All first responders are committed to the safety of the public but the facts are, these scenarios such as the Camp Fire, resources are often thin, particularly in the early stages of the incident.

None of my commentary is meant to be disparaging or critical of your ideas but the reality is that there is no perfect answer or perfect piece of equipment that will solve each and every situation.


Just for a small bit of info also CAL Fire launches aircraft at the outset of a new incident. This will be done even without confirmation of a fire. The idea being that flying the planes and cancelling them is still a less expensive practice than allowing for a fire to get out of control. They do not “wait for the fire to get out of control.” In fact in many part of the state the aircraft will be attacking the fire before ground units arrive at scene. The standard for calf fire is to have aircraft over a fire anywhere in the state within 20 minutes.

However I do like that there are people out there such as yourself that are attempting to think outside the box and come up with inovative new ways to fight these monster fires.




This guy gets it :point_up:

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1 dept
21 different ways of doing business

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Hi Keith,

Thanks again for such a detailed reply, I had no idea about the 26,000 weight limit for instance. Entirely agree there is no silver bullet to wildfires, and we have lived with wildfires for millennia and will do for the foreseeable future - personal and property protection including fuel management and readiness in the WUI is indeed the 100% goal - but when you look at the worldwide problem including Europe / Australia -

I subscribe the excellent Wildfire News of the Day and I’m hoping that with the speed of advance of technology and communications that the number of wildfires that quickly get out of control worldwide could possibly be 30% contained quicker in say 5-10 years time which will hopefully reduce the amount of acreage burnt and in turn reduce the suppression costs

Thanks again Keith, you are clearly a subject matter expert that I hope is high up in the decision-making process for keeping people safe!


@Dozer_Keith - is there a way to speak offline? it would be great to share some further thoughts but cant see a way of messaging you via the forum other than publicly? Does it open up with more posts etc?


@WWR…No, I don’t consider myself to be a subject matter expert. I am just a guy, who has been at this a minute or two and have tried to observe and learn the entire time. There are a lot of outstanding people on this forum that each have a wealth of knowledge and experience. One of the best aspects of a forum, such as this one, is that it brings together the various levels of knowledge, experience, and perspective to form the intelligence sharing that goes on here.

As you begin your time here, don’t limit yourself to one person’s viewpoint but rather take it all in. I have a certain viewpoint that is developed from my set of experiences as does everybody else. That by no means, makes my viewpoint better than anyone else’s, it’s just different. While there is a tool that enables private message on this platform, I prefer to use this forum for it’s intended use, which is to share intelligence information and ideas amongst everyone and for everyone’s benefit. The Moderators are extremely diligent about making sure that the right information is properly aligned with the subject and cleaning up the post which are off-topic or inappropriate. They are also working people, so they also have a ton of knowledge and experience.

Stay alert and enjoy this great forum!


I have noticed that there is a greatly increased equipment component dispatched on wildfires this year, compared to times past. Fires are caught much quicker and staying smaller. The higher fuel moisture this year seems to be helping also. When I was up in the mountains of Central CA, the forest looked to be in much better health that in recent past.

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I have to sadly agree. I went up to a training in Cohassett in January and my heart sank. Not 12 miles from Paradise and very few of the houses had clearance. They were even evacuated during the event!


One reason you are seeing more equipment sooner is there hasn’t been much activity and everybody is on base.


Lessons from Australia - we are not the only one’s in the world working on initial attack solutions:

See the guidelines below that were going to be implemented in Southern California as a way to save property.
They were not because of potential lawsuits and danger to the public after the 2009 “Black Saturday fire" that killed 173 people in Australia.

Australia 2009 - Black Saturday Aftermath:

Modifying the “Stay and Defend” or “Leave Early” policy to account for the most severe wildfires includes ‘Leaving early is still the safest option’. Australians have long been proud of their fierce self-reliance, which is illustrated by the country’s wildfire policy. Prior to 2009, residents in remote rural areas were urged to evacuate their property if fire threatened, but those who felt they could adequately defend their property were permitted, even encouraged, to do so.

This official policy, called “Stay and Defend or Leave Early,” or SDLE, came under intense scrutiny following the worst wildfires in Australian history, which occurred in the southern state of Victoria on February 7, 2009 — “Black Saturday.” Those fires killed 173 people, 113 of them in or near buildings, and called into question the wisdom of the stay-and-defend model. A royal commission was called to examine the circumstances surrounding those fires, and in July 2010 the commission issued a five-volume report of its findings.

The report did not recommend the total elimination of SDLE, but asserted that the policy should not apply in severe fire conditions. “The stay or go policy failed to allow for the variations in fire severity that can result from differing topography, fuel loads, and weather conditions,” the report stated. “Leaving early is still the safest option. Staying to defend a well-prepared defendable home is also a sound choice in less severe fires, but there needs to be greater emphasis on important qualifications.”

Other report recommendations include:

  • Strengthening fire warnings and improving their timeliness and dissemination;
  • Providing more practical and realistic options such as community refuges and wildfire shelter, with more assisted evacuation for vulnerable people;
  • Providing improved public education about fire behavior and house defendability;
  • Improving the deployment and use of roadblocks;
  • Ensuring that fire agencies have thorough processes for identifying and approving particularly dangerous activities such as back-burns;