Brothers Save Their Homes from Fire but Face Criminal Penalties for Their Methods

Some people would do just about anything to save their home and loved ones, even if it meant breaking the law. But would it be fair to arrest and prosecute someone for breaking the law if they saved not only their own home, but an entire town?

Brothers Micah and Ross Curtis were organizing family and friends to save property and homes on their 55-acre piece of property in Monterey County, California from the wildfires that have blazed across the southern part of the state this spring and summer. The brothers live with relatives and rent-paying tenants on a compound of redwood-built homes on a natural feature named Apple Pie Ridge.

However, when flames from a Basin Complex fire burning near Big Sur River began surrounding the compound, they were forced to make a tough choice: continue their futile approach or break the law to stop the blaze.

The Curtis brothers, who had some training as seasonal firefighters, lit a series of backfires to halt the progression of the fire onto their land, despite orders from California Department of Forestry officials to stop. Authorities are worried that backfires started by amateurs without a full fire crew could get out of control and end up doing more harm than help, according to the news report in the Los Angeles Times.

With no choice but to start the backfires or lose their homes, the Curtis brothers set backfires with flares around 12 feet away from the main blaze, and were successfully able to direct it around their property. In fact, their efforts had better results than they could have imagined, as the backfires not only saved their own property, but helped firefighting crews head off the fire before it reached the nearby village.

Department of Forestry officials came to the compound afterward, but instead of a hero’s thanks, they brought handcuffs. Ross Curtis let them take him away, taking the fall for his brother. He is currently awaiting arraignment on two misdemeanor counts, and the two are concerned that Micah Curtis may also be arrested in conjunction with the incident as well.

The Curtis brothers understand why the practice is illegal, because it is very dangerous and wildly unpredictable. However, they felt they had no choice. Because of its geographical situation, the fire services view it as “indefensible,” meaning that they would not mobilize resources to protect it. Left to their own efforts, the brothers saw that they could either break the law or let their homes burn.

Though the brothers will deserve whatever charges are brought against them, it’s hard to fault them for acting in the way they did, an argument likely to be employed by their criminal defense attorneys. Put in their situation, it’s hard to imagine anyone doing any differently.