Ross Curtis, along with family and friends, saved his Big Sur home from being destroyed by a wildfire. Moreover the backfire he set seems to have helped officials contain the blaze. His thanks? Curtis was arrested and changed with 2 misdemeanors for his trouble.
As the fire closed in on three sides, Micah Curtis said, they used a flare to set controlled burns no more than a dozen feet from the blaze. That not only steered it away from their houses, he said, but also created a broader line of defense, which helped state and federal fire crews protect the village below.
Giving a tour of the property over the weekend, Micah Curtis bumped into a state fire captain doing mop-up work with an inmate crew.
The captain, who asked not to be identified because of the controversy, praised the work of the amateurs of Apple Pie Ridge.
"I’ll tell you what," the captain told him, "you guys did a good job of holding it."
Praise also came from other professionals.
"Awesome," a U.S. Forest Service crew leader said, shaking his head in disbelief. "You did an awful lot of work up here."
Taking the high road, Ross Curtis expressed his understanding for government officials’ actions.
…he understands why fire officials are irate.
They explained it to him, he said, during his brief stay in jail. An unauthorized backfire, they said, can catch a team of firefighters unaware and perhaps put those crews in danger. Kill a firefighter, they told him, and you go to prison for life.
That’s one perspective and not an entirely unreasonable one for commanders who put men’s lives in harms way to take.
Another is that government officials should concern themselves more with the outcome of Curtis’ actions and less with the rules of firefighting etiquette. Curtis acted boldly, took a risk, and saved his home. This country needs more men like him, not fewer.
There remains the question of whether the wildfires should be fought at all. Home owners in lower California know the chance they are taking by living where they do. Is it the government’s responsibility to subsidize their choices by spending vast amounts of money and risking firefighters’ lives?