Above, a firefighter operating at the Getty Fire in Los Angeles, California. Photo courtesy of Rick McClure.
Several news reports are taking a closer look at the use of private firefighters, especially in the light of the recent devastating wildfires decimating communities in the West.
KOLO looked at the private firefighting industry thriving amid the recent spate of California fires. As these fires continue threaten homes in the wildland-urban interface (WUI), some homeowners and insurance companies contract out companies to protect homes and other structures.
KOLO reporters spoke with Reno (NV) Battalion Chief Mark Winkelman, who noted the difficulty of municipal fire crews interacting with private contractors. “The problem we have with the private firefighting companies is actually knowing they’re on the fire,” Winkelman told reporters.
The New York Times also reported on the phenomenon of wealthy landowners in the state hiring private contractors for fire protection duties. Reporters spoke to Don Holter, an owner of Mt. Adams Wildfire, operating near Sacramento. The company offers short-term “on call” wildfire protection for families and neighborhood associations in Northern California and Eastern Washington, the report said. Many of these companies are hired by insurance providers, and focuses more on installing systems and other preventative measures as opposed to wildland firefighting, per se. Some of these contractors are increasingly hiring out their services directly to property owners, the report noted.
Private firefighter firms are not new—the Associated Press issued a report in 2012 on the trend—but the prevalence of catastrophic wildfires and growing populations in the WUI may see an increase in their use.