Understanding wildfire ‘containment’

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The Getty Fire burns near the Getty Center along the 405 freeway north of Los Angeles, California, U.S. October 28, 2019. Photo credit: Gene Blevins/Reuters.

Officials say the Getty Fire is 5% contained as of Tuesday morning, after more than 1,100 firefighters have been working on it since early Monday. But what does “containment” really mean?

Stephen Ruda, retired battalion chief at the L.A. Fire Department, says containment is the physical boots-on-the-ground line of firefighters who surround the fire. 

“Those are the workhorses of a brushfire… They're the unsung heroes. The crews that come from all over Southern California, the camp crews from the prison authority that come out and work alongside the professional firefighters… They might even be dropped in by helicopter and establish a perimeter between the fire and the unburned brush.”

He says these firefighters are dividing the area so there’s no spillover (of fire) into the unburned brush. 

“This is probably some of the toughest terrain that our firefighters in Los Angeles have seen for a long, long time. This is an urban interface, which means we have homes that are built through these canyons. So the containment means that we have those lines around just 5% of those canyons, those ridges,” he says. “And we have to be very cautious [about] how we how we handle that, especially with winds coming maybe later tonight.” 

Ruda points out that 5% containment means residents are still very vulnerable. 

But he remains optimistic: “We have our helicopter crews… that go out to the Pacific Ocean or a body of water and scoop up over 2500 gallons of water… And they are amazing pilots that have served us… And a great, great job they are doing… And they have that observation force as well. So it's an air-ground team, if you will.”

--Written by Amy Ta, produced by Christian Bordal

Credits

Guest:
Stephen Ruda - Retired battalion chief at the LA Fire Department

Host:
Steve Chiotakis

Producers:
Christian Bordal, Jenna Kagel