When the Station fire burned through the Angeles National Forest a few weeks ago, you heard a lot about people who defied a mandatory evacuation order and had to take shelter in a hot tub, where they suffered serious burns. Governor Schwarzenegger chastised them, and they were held up as an example of what not to do during a fire by TV reporters on every channel. Living near the fire zone, I overheard and partook in a number of supermarket checkout line conversations which all agreed that, if told by the police to evacuate, we would not hesitate to do so.
Well, now it turns out that things may not have been what they seemed. Julius Goff, who has recently been released from the hospital, told the Los Angeles Times that, when he was ordered to evacuate, he first went down the road to check on a neighbor who uses a wheelchair, and helped him get out. When he tried to go deeper into the canyon to inform other neighbors who had not received the evacuation order, sheriff's deputies stopped him. He asked them if they were going to inform those residents that the evacuation order had changed from voluntary to urgent, and they told him that they were leaving. He checked on those neighbors, and when he returned to his own home, parts of the property were already on fire. A new resident was still there, crying and terrified. Having no other choice, they immersed themselves and their landlord's dog in the hot tub. Goff spent 1 1/2 hours in the tub, with a dog on his chest, and was badly burned. If he had evacuated when he had been ordered to do so, ten people, a dog, and a coop full of chickens (which he opened to release the birds inside) would be dead. He is not a defiant homeowner; he doesn't even own the property on which he lives. He is the Paul Revere of the Station fire.
It's hard to remember this, but there are at least two sides to every story. When a situation appears to be too simple, it probably is.