The deaths of 19 young firefighters who perished in Arizona are a sad reminder of the destructive power of wild land fires and the inherent risks these professionals take every time they’re on the fire line.
The young men were hotshots — elite firefighters trained to battle wild land fires in the roughest of terrain for weeks at a time, if needed. They deployed their fire tents in a last-ditch effort to save themselves that ultimately proved futile.
This tragedy didn’t happen close to home, but it could have.
As our not-too-distant history can attest, our county is highly susceptible to fast-moving wild fires:
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In 1997, the Logan Fire tore through 50,000 acres east of Huasna, which is east of Arroyo Grande.
In 1996, the Highway 58 Fire scorched 107,000 acres east of Santa Margarita and destroyed 13 homes and 26 sheds.
In 1994, the Highway 41 Fire burned more than 48,000 acres and destroyed 42 homes between Morro Bay and Paso Robles.
In 1985, the Las Pilitas Fire burned 75,000 acres in 15 days, caused an estimated $2 million in damage, destroyed nine homes and 20 other buildings and forced about 4,000 people in San Luis Obispo neighborhoods to evacuate. The fire closed parts of Highway 101 for three days, shut down the airport, halted classes at Cal Poly and turned downtown San Luis Obispo into a virtual ghost town.
Many communities, especially in fire-prone areas like ours, are asking their citizens to be especially vigilant this Fourth of July, as a way of honoring the firefighters who died in Arizona.
We join in that plea.
Do not use illegal fireworks — anywhere. And remember, “safe and sane” fireworks are legal in only five communities in San Luis Obispo County: Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach, Oceano, San Miguel and Templeton.
If you live in one of those areas and plan on using Safe and Sane fireworks, here are important safety measures, courtesy of the National Safety Council:
Never allow young children to handle fireworks.
Light fireworks outdoors in a clear area away from onlookers, houses and flammable materials.
Light one device at a time; maintain a safe distance after lighting.
Do not allow any running or horseplay while fireworks are being used.
Never ignite devices in a container.
Do not try to re-light or handle malfunctioning fireworks; douse and soak them with water and discard them safely.
Keep a bucket of water nearby to fully extinguish fireworks that don’t go off or in case of fire.
We know that you’ve heard these safety tips many, many times before.
But this year, in honor of the 19 firefighters who died, we ask that you read them again, and follow them to the letter.