On Halloween evening in 2001, a small wildland fire spread to 1200 acres before being contained and controlled. It occurred near my home in the country west of Berthoud, Colorado. We were notified via reverse 9-1-1 to evacuate, and we did (partly) by sending my mother-in-law, the kids, and animals off premise into town for safety. My wife and I stayed along with a team of my friends (volunteer rescuers from out of district) came to our aid. They raked leaves and watered down the grass around the home. A friend with a home-made foam device, covered the roof and house to retard oncoming flames. No homes were lost and there were thankfully no injuries.
Since I have been part of a responding rescue agency on many a similar incident, I have some idea of what to expect for response from a fire department. In general, the response was immediate for a rural department. Escalation of the incident was rapid, and soon neighboring cities and counties were sending apparatus and personnel. However, as serious as this incident was, 1200 acres is quite small compared to many of the large wildland fires throughout the United States.
1. Water availability was difficult, especially as the fire spread and evening fell. Hydrants (a rarity in the countryside) have since been installed on our dirt road.
2. Distance to the nearest response agency is over 8 miles. A new fire station with personnel and apparatus was built and is operating.
3. Mutual aid was either slow to be called or had difficulty interfacing with ICS due to interoperability issues. Now all mutual aid agencies share a few common radio channels.
4. Many rural privately owned ‘streets’ (long-driveways into subdivisions) are unpaved and have no street signs. Street sign and house numbering program implemented and completed.
1. No amount of evacuation planning prepares one for the ‘feeling’ of having to actually evacuate. Nor does pre-planning what to take with you from your home.
2. Just because I had responded to dozens of fire calls in my volunteer career, I was not mentally prepared for dealing with my own family and home being directly impacted. I thought back to the hundreds of people whose door I knocked on giving them five minutes to get out. Or, the residents I turned away at a road block, who were worried about pets or needed their medicine. Shoe on the other foot syndrome, for sure.
 Berthoud [CO] Fire Protection District, Sept 2007. “WILDLAND URBAN INTERFACE COMMUNITY WILDFIRE PROTECTION PLAN”, source accessed 9-09.http://csfs.colostate.edu/pages/documents/BerthoudFPDCWPPFinal.pdf