Lessons from Iraq Offer a Different Future For Southern California Wildland/Urban Interface Fires

Three California fire agencies have taken lessons from the mean streets by developing a new color-coding system. Bill Clayton and Mike Rohde discuss the system and its effects.


A string of Humvees and armored personnel carriers moves along an elevated road somewhere on the outskirts of a Baghdad neighborhood. The soldiers are U.S. Army Reserves, activated for a year of duty in Iraq. They are alert and tensed for any surprises that may come. They are new to Iraq, having...


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The beauty of this system is that it allows experienced local fire officers to convey risk-assessment and safety issues to people they will never meet, and convey tremendous amounts of information in seconds. And if you’re the tired, dirty and hungry firefighter facing a mountain of fire bearing down on your next structure-protection assignment, seconds are all the time you may have to read and use such an assessment.


STRUCTURE PROTECTION RESOURCE ALLOCATION FORMULA

For both Risk Condition Red and Risk Condition Yellow Neighborhoods

Guidance: One engine per every two to four perimeter structures in subdivisions (variability is based on prevalent fire behavior, weather, etc.), one engine for every isolated structure. Two engines per multi-family structure or small group of isolated structures.

Reserves: Add one strike team of engines as floaters for every 100 perimeter structures in Risk Condition Yellow neighborhoods, add two strike teams for Risk Condition Red neighborhoods.

Formula: Number of perimeter structures divided by 2 or 4 (select 2 for extreme conditions) equals the basic number of engines needed. Add one strike team more for every 100 perimeter structures for Risk Condition Yellow, two for Risk Condition Red.

CAUTION: Do not over-commit resources to any area beyond the capacity of available safety zones.

Consider hand crews for fuel clearance around structures or dozer line as time permits.

For Risk Condition Green Neighborhoods:

Guidance: One strike team of engines per every two blocks of perimeter homes (average 30-40 tract homes per block, half of which will face perimeter).

Reserves: Add one strike team of engines for every 200 perimeter homes as floaters. Consider use of Patrols or Type 3 engines as floaters.

Formula: Number of perimeter blocks divided by 2 equals the number of engine strike teams needed. Add one strike team for every 200 perimeter homes. Consider additional resources for exposed multi-family dwellings.

Bill Clayton and Mike Rohde will present “From Tactical to Practical: Applying Military Combat Pre-Planning to the Fire Service” and Rohde will present “Climate Change and Fire Behavior: How and Why Fires Are Becoming More Dangerous in the West” at Firehouse World 2005 in San Diego, Jan. 31-Feb. 4.


Bill Clayton is a division chief with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF) in San Diego County. He possesses 45 years of fire service experience, and a master of science degree. In 2003, he served as an incident commander for the Cedar Fire, the worst urban interface wildfire in the history of California. Mike Rohde is a battalion chief with the Orange County Fire Authority. He has 32 years of fire service experience and a master of science degree. In 2003, he was a structure protection branch director at two major Southern California wildfires.