During National Fire Prevention Week, the words of President George Washington ring true.
Fire “is a dangerous servant and a fearful master,” the Father of His Country once said.
Just consider the wind-driven wildfires that have roared through California’s wine country this week.
Left in the blaze’s wake in Napa and Sonoma counties: at least 17 dead, at least 185 injured, and more than 2,000 homes and businesses destroyed.
“This is just pure devastation,” Ken Pimlott, chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, told The Associated Press.
Illinois has seen the destructive power of a wind-driven fire. The Great Chicago Fire of Oct. 8-10, 1871, became an inferno of flames, heat, ash and smoke because of a strong wind. History tells us that up to 300 people were killed.
Fire Prevention Week, which falls the same week as the Great Chicago Fire, selects different fire safety topics each year.
This year, the theme is “Every second counts; plan two ways out.”
Illinois State Fire Marshal Matt Perez encourages individuals and families to have an escape plan in place with at least two exits and pathways to safety for anyone inside the structure, whether it’s a home or your workplace.
The plan should be tested twice a year by conducting fire drills – one at night and one during the day.
Children should be taught how to escape on their own in case a parent or guardian can’t help them.
One suggestion by the National Fire Protection Association makes eminent sense: close doors behind you as you leave a burning building to slow the spread of smoke and fire.
By lessening the amount of oxygen available, closed doors can thwart flames from spreading quickly and buy occupants and firefighters precious time.
And by all means, people should never re-enter a burning building.
Illinois isn’t prone to Western-style wildfires, but Fire Marshal Perez said fire still hits the state hard. Last year, fire damaged more than 15,000 homes in Illinois, killing 121 civilians and injuring more than 500 civilians.
Sobering facts, to be sure.
We encourage everyone to take seriously the message of Fire Prevention Week.