It’s time for California firefighters as threat of a long fire season looms – San Bernardino Sun
U.S. Air Force Maj.Matt Ringlein spent more than eight hours transporting loads of Phos-Chek in a Hercules C-130 plane from San Bernardino International Airport and dumping the bright red fire retardant around Mt. . Wilson Obervatory, ahead of the trail of the Bobcat fire, which devoured more than 113,000 acres in the San Gabriel Mountains in September.
At the end of the day, he and the whole plane reeked of smoke billowing from the 80-foot-tall flames. But as exhausted as he was, he knew there were others who trudged through the heat, ashes, and flaming charred soil around the perimeter of the fire who were fighting as hard, if not more, to prevent a raging hell from spreading through the Angeles National Forest.
“While we may not have met these guys, there is a camaraderie between us and them on the pitch,” said Ringlein. “Because we know very well that they are out there where it is much hotter, with less rest and less sleep.”
Crews spent weeks at a time away from their families battling the blazes along the west coast. Wildfires burned a record 4.2 million acres in California in 2020, testing disaster management agencies to their limits. The length of the active fire season has grown considerably over the years, leaving firefighters less time to recover and prepare.
“It really plays into the climate change narrative,” Cal Fire Battalion Chief Jon Heggie said. “The obvious facts of what we see and face are longer, hotter, and drier summers.”
Times of crisis
Gov. Gavin Newsom authorized $ 536 million in advanced funding in April to bolster efforts to get a head start before the hottest and windiest conditions hit. Early weather models predict that the greatest risk of wildfires in Southern California will occur in June or July. In the meantime, the firefighters are providing as much training as possible.
The state planned to hire an additional 1,399 firefighters and has already held most of those positions, Cal Fire Captain Alison Hesterly said on Monday (May 10). and will be distributed evenly throughout California.
“This is the critical moment,” said Brian Fennessy, Orange County Fire Chief. “The fire season has arrived. There is no better time than the present to prepare, as there are many indications that it could happen again and that it could be like 2020. “
A total of 9,392 acres were burned this year by wildfires in California as of May 9, according to statistics from Cal Fire. That’s an area nearly six times the size of what was burned on the same date in 2020.
Meanwhile, the moisture level found in vegetation across the state has hit all-time low levels this year, and now conditions are even drier than they were in 2020, Fennessy said. Most counties in California recorded less than half the amount of precipitation they would typically receive in May, compared to seasonal averages, National Weather Service meteorologist Stefanie Sullivan said. Drought conditions are worse in the northern parts of the state. But even in San Diego County, where conditions are closer to seasonal averages, more than 5,300 acres were burnt by the southern blaze in May.
Here’s a look at the climate data for April 2021 for parts of southwestern California. Most sites received no measurable precipitation, and those that received only a few hundredths at most. Difficult way to end the rainy season. #CAwx pic.twitter.com/5PhRmBizM2
– NWS Los Angeles (@NWSLosAngeles) May 6, 2021
Efforts to reduce the amount of dry brush available as a potential fuel for wildfires are a key part of California’s strategy to mitigate disaster risk later in the year, Heggie said. Money for things like prescribed burns and “house hardening” projects to bolster defenses around residential areas is a big part of the governor’s approved advanced funding package.
Today, Chief Osby was joined by local and state partners in reminding residents to do their part to prepare for wildfires.
the #LACoFD encourages residents to create and maintain a defensible space, harden their homes and update their wildfire action plan.
🔗https: //t.co/mh2PT2MgfK pic.twitter.com/2kOWPsrLeN
– LACoFD (@LACOFD) May 8, 2021
A Dozer Academy hosted by the San Bernardino County Fire Department in Hesperia starting May 5 was one of many programs being held this spring to prepare for possible wildfires. The prescribed burn and training camp allowed firefighting bulldozer operators to practice clearing brush and building barriers around open flames in a controlled environment, before they were sent to the disaster front. The event was also a coordination exercise between drivers behind the wheel of 50,000-pound earthmovers, helicopters carrying hundreds of gallons of water overhead, and manual crews guiding them to where they might be needed most.
“Fighting forest fires is dangerous work and we practice it,” said Mike Wakoski, San Bernardino County Fire Battalion Chief. “A big part of that communication is communicating effectively together.”
A shared responsibility
Authorities are in constant contact with the public, urging those who visit or live near the wilderness to remain aware of potential fire hazards. About 91% of all major fires are human-related, Forest Service spokesman Nathan Judy said.
The El Dorado fire devoured more than 22,700 acres in the Yucaipa region and was sparked by the use of pyrotechnics at a gender reveal party on September 5. Charles Edward Morton, a crew chief of the Big Bear Hotshots, died fighting this fire. . Prosecutors are still deciding whether criminal charges could be filed in connection with the fire.
“How many of these large catastrophic fires, under elevated conditions, are preventable?” Angels National Forest fire chief Robert Garcia said.
Others could be the result of cars, trains, electrical equipment or any other man-made device malfunctioning in an environment conducive to ignition, Garcia said. Investigators believe the Bobcat fire started after a tree branch came into contact with southern California Edison power lines running through the forest.
Utility equipment has also been linked to other major fires, including the Woolsey Fire which burned from Malibu to Thousand Oaks in 2018 and the Thomas Fire in 2017. Southern California Edison paid more than $ 4.6 billion to settle insurance claims and lawsuits related to these disasters. .
The power company upgraded the equipment to be less likely to start fires, installed cameras to monitor the equipment in the wild, and provided funding that enabled OCFA to hire the larger helitanker of the world, as part of a forest fire mitigation program.
SCE and other electric utilities have also preventively cut power to some burn-prone areas during times of extreme wind, heat and low humidity. These planned and actual SCE outages can be tracked here.
The utility is working to compartmentalize its network, especially in fire-prone areas, so that public safety power outages affect fewer people at a time, SCE spokesman David Song said on Tuesday (May 11th). .
“Our interest is to make sure that our customers have a reliable power supply,” Song said, adding that SCE was reluctant to cut service to people, especially when they were stranded at home during the pandemic, “ save for public safety reasons ”.
Officials are urging people to be vigilant and immediately report any signs of fire in the forest to local authorities. If flames do break out in nature, firefighters plan to react aggressively to keep them from spiraling out of control.
“We’ve put more emphasis on detecting small fires, catching them early,” Garcia said.