California Firefighters Detained For Possibly Setting Illegal Backfires

(Photo by SAMUEL CORUM/AFP via Getty Images)

Marlo Safi Culture Reporter
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Private firefighters hired by Napa Valley wineries were detained for possibly setting illegal backfires, ABC 7 reported Thursday.

Video obtained by ABC 7 shows the private firefighters being detained by California Highway Patrol (CHP) and CAL Fire on Oct. 2 at around 4 p.m.. The private firefighters are under investigation for possibly setting backfires, which are fires set to stop the spread or change the direction of a wildfire and can be done by burning fuel, such as trees or brush, ahead of a wildfire so it has nothing to burn when it arrives at that point.

Fire Fighters set a backfire to help stop the advance of the Glass Fire which started in the early morning hours in Napa Valley, California on September 27, 2020. – (Photo by Samuel CORUM / AFP) (Photo by SAMUEL CORUM/AFP via Getty Images)

Backfires can be very dangerous and risk the safety of other firefighters if private contractors don’t inform the incident command post about plans to set the backfires.

They are an essential tool in combating wildfires, but the allegation is serious due to the hot and dry conditions and the risk that backfires may take away resources from the primary firefight. (RELATED: California’s Wildfires Have Burned Enough Carbon To Power Roughly 23 Coal Plants For One Year, Estimates Show)

It’s unclear which wineries hired the firefighters. 

CAL Fire confirmed with ABC 7 that an investigation is underway that could result in charges and arrests. “Safety is our priority, and not only for the public, but also for our first responders that are working these areas,” Erick Hernandez, CAL Fire Spokesman, told the news station.

CAL Fire received reports of “backfires or something of that nature being put into play by individuals not assigned to the incident,” in early October, Napa Valley Register reported

Private firefighting groups are becoming more commonplace, often hired by wealthy landowners but also sometimes offered by insurance companies to limit damage and financial losses. In Napa Valley, vineyards cost up to $1 million an acre.

CAL Fire and CHP did not respond with comment in time for publication. 

California wildfires have set a new record by destroying more than 4 million acres. CAL Fire said in a Sunday statement that 31 people have been killed and more than 8,400 buildings have been destroyed in the more than 8,200 wildfires that have ravaged California.