Escaping deadly fires was no coincidence

Dec 11, 2016

As fires raged all around Haywood County, destroying thousands of acres of forest lands, homes and even claiming lives, our county was able to escape the perils, even though conditions were just as dry here as elsewhere in the region.

That was no coincidence.

It wasn’t as if there weren’t fire scares. In the month’s time the burn ban was in place in the county, the fire marshal’s office responded to nearly 125 outside burns — anything from burning leaf piles, to larger brush fires, to tourists lighting up fire pits without being aware of the ban.

By comparison, last year the fire marshal’s office responded to 234 calls for the entire year.

Haywood’s office of the N.C. Forest Service has also responded to more fire calls than usual, but thanks to extraordinary preparation and communication, the out-of-control blazes were kept in check. The largest fire ended up being on Max Patch Road where 15 acres were burned, a pittance compared to the thousands of acres lost in adjoining  counties.

Haywood County has a coordinated emergency response team made up of representatives from every sector of emergency services — fire, law enforcement, medical, transportation, elected and appointed government officials.

The team trains regularly throughout the year and has mapped out plausible scenarios that might be faced, along with a plan to address them.

One such possibility includes actions to take in the event a burning ban is imposed. The plan calls for a tiered management response depending on the threat level.  During a burning ban, for instance, all outside fire calls are automatically responded to by a local fire department, and either the fire marshal or a Forest Service representative. Under normal circumstances, only the fire department would respond.

While there is certainly a bit of luck involved in Haywood’s escape from a lurking danger, it is very likely that advanced planning, excellent communication and vigilence are the very things that helped Haywood avert the fire disasters experienced in other areas.

Neither factor is something we should take for granted. Next time you encounter a member of any fire department, search and rescue unit, law enforcement or local officials, take a moment to express gratitude for their foresight in putting a priority on safety.