Tuesday, June 24, 2008

That empty feeling, like it's all gone!

This is a photo of the Redway Fire Hall at 5:45pm 6-24-08

It is a rare occasion that we have all four Redway Engines committed to an assignment at the same time. The quick-attack truck was assigned to the Elk Ridge fire, the main fire truck was committed to Helicopter safety at the con camp.

The two remaining engines were committed to a power-line fire in lower Redway. The top of a tree broke off in the wind, causing it to drop on the power lines shorting them out. The top then fell on down and broke the lashing wire on the telephone line. By the time that the tree top hit the ground it was on fire and caused a small brush fire that was quickly extinguished.

The Elk Ridge fire was reported as a structure fire and a fully engulfed trailer. By the time that I got there, from the con camp, to Garberville, to Redway, to Elk Ridge, the fire was out. I arrived with the rest of the three engines that arrived on scene, and Cal-Fire arrived shortly after.

It was a small fire in the brush behind the trailer. I didn’t get all the way back to it because I was with the engine pumping water.

There were so many local residents showed up with hoes, shovels, maclouds, rakes, and back pack water pumps, that they had it put out. One guy had a brand new pair of running shoes and he had melted the soles off of them from stomping on fire. These people are real heroes. The potential for disaster was great because of the heavy fuel load and the wind.

I never recommend that anyone do anything that they are uncomfortable with, or that might endanger themselves, but it always amazes me how much life and property that willing bystanders can save before the Fire Department can show up.

Then there is the main truck that was at the con camp doing helicopter safety. It is a boring job in some respects, because we don’t have a lot to do. It gets hot and sweaty in the heavy structure fire gear. It is interesting to talk to the pilots and other personnel, and we get to meet a lot of other people that we identify with in so many ways that it is uncanny. There are many parallels.

Anyway, I don’t recall when the last time we have had all of our firefighters and engines committed.


Anonymous said...

One guy had a brand new pair off running shoes and he had melted the soles off of from stomping on fire.

and the cost of shoes being what it is shouldn't calfire reimburse him for his firefighting equipment.

Kym said...

Ernie, I love the photo. It captures the craziness right now in a quiet way--it tickles my sense of humor.

BTW, Penelope Andrews, KMUD DJ is telling me that Leggett VFD needs volunteers badly to fight the Red Mountain fire. What do you hear?

I can barely find mention of Red Mountain's fire and that is in the Press Democrat today. Where Tom Allman calls the fire "an area of critical concern."

Ernie Branscomb said...

Kym, You are right.

There are so many fires that the firefighters are just keeping their heads down and concentrating on what they are working on. I was talking to a fire fighter from Sacramento that passed DOZENS of fires on the way over here that had no crews on them. He said that Humboldt County was lucky that they put in their fire resource request early and got all of the available equipment.

I’m not sure If I feel lucky or selfish, but at least we have a chance in Humboldt County to get our fires put out.

What do you think? Are we lucky or selfish? Tough call….

Too bad the Feds didn’t bring helicopters with them.

Carol said...

That is one clean fire department! I mean, cleaned-out! I hope everyone is safe. Thank you, all you firefighters!

Robin Shelley said...

Some property owners hiring private crews, leasing copters


Published: Wednesday, June 25, 2008 at 4:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, June 25, 2008 at 7:50 a.m.

An unprecedented onslaught of flames continued Tuesday to scour bone-dry wildlands of Mendocino County, forcing state fire commanders to make cold, hard decisions about which of the 106 fires to fight and which to ignore.

It was a scene being repeated across Northern California as overmatched fire crews were confronted for a second day by more than 800 lightning-caused blazes.

At the state command post in Ukiah, the decisions were straightforward: Attack the fires that threaten people and homes, worry about the others in the coming days -- or weeks.

As a result, some desperate Mendocino County property owners Tuesday turned to hiring private firefighting crews and leasing helicopters to help fight fires on their own land.

"We understand the state's problems, but we can't wait for our lands to make their way up the priority list," said Mike Jani, chief forester for Mendocino Redwood Co. of Ukiah.

Jani said 31 lightning-caused fires are flaring across a 228,000-acre strip of company timberlands running along the rugged Mendocino-Sonoma coastline.

Jani said company crews and state firefighters are coordinating firefighting efforts, but more personnel and equipment are needed.

"We have two 20-man private crews arriving from Montana, and we may bring in more," Jani said.

The company has rented a private firefighting helicopter to dump ocean water on a fire near Rockport on the north Mendocino Coast.

On Tuesday, Mendocino County remained the hardest hit in Northern California. Though the number of fires decreased to 106 from the 131 reported Monday, the blackened acreage reached 19,000 -- about 30 square miles. And 46 fires -- almost all in remote areas -- remained unattended.

For now, the fast-changing events are pushing aside a contentious public debate over whether such fires should be allowed to burn themselves out and whether longtime state fire-suppression policies can ever end in victory over catastrophic wildfires.

Critics say no, not as long as state, county and city officials continue to allow urban intrusion into dangerous fire zones where wildlands and housing meet.

As it is, an estimated 60 percent of Mendocino County's 90,000 residents live in homes and small communities scattered throughout wildland areas, from Piercy to Potter Valley, from Branscomb to Brooktrails.

But racing flames and a second day of foul air quality left no time Tuesday for any debate over firefighting tactics.

"We are aggressively attacking the fires. We don't have time or energy for anything else," said Cal Fire spokeswoman Tracy Boudreaux.

Current firefighting priorities were clear as state efforts unfolded Tuesday to fight major fires in Lake and Mendocino counties.

About 130 firefighters battled the fast-moving Walker fire, which has burned 9,000 acres in a remote section of northeastern Lake County.

In contrast, nearly 700 firefighters were attacking dozens of Mendocino County fires in areas where small communities, homes, and ranching and timber equipment are threatened.

State fire officials Tuesday described the current wildfire situation as "dire."

Cal Fire set up a special command center at the Redwood Empire Fairgrounds in Ukiah and brought in a veteran state firefighter to oversee a 40-member technical crew to plot the Mendocino County wildfire strategy.

Commander Joe Waterman, speaking to the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, praised local volunteer fire departments and Sheriff Tom Allman and deputies for their efforts since the first fires broke out during weekend thunderstorms.

"These people have been in the trenches since day one. If not for them, this crisis would be far greater," Waterman said.

Waterman warned county officials that it could take "weeks" to gain control over the region's wildland fires.

The same prognosis was made by local air quality and health officials, who warned Tuesday that unhealthy air could linger for days and even weeks over Mendocino, Lake, Sonoma and Napa counties. Some concerned bicycle riders and pedestrians were observed Tuesday wearing face masks in Ukiah.

You can reach Staff Writer Mike Geniella at 462-6470 or

Ernie Branscomb said...

Thank-you Robin, your journalistic sleuthing pays off again!

Ernie Branscomb said...

Here's another link for mendocino Information. Coach Brown

Anonymous said...

The smoke from Calif. has arrived in Brookings,OR. today.

Anonymous said...

The fires, along with the passing of George Carlin, remind me of his routine as the "Hippie Dippy Weatherman" describing a brush fire burning down a marijuana field: "There's a high over Northern California today ..."

Ernie Branscomb said...

Carlin was actually pretty prophetic! I just hope that he left this world as one big orgasm. (One of his comedy routines, you would have to have been there.)

The smoke is thick this morning, clear to the bottom of the valleys.

Ernie Branscomb said...

The smoke must be what hell is going to look like...

Anonymous said...

How many California National Guard are "laying down fire" in Iraq, when they could be suppressing fire back home in the nation? Call them home Governator! Stand up to Washington! (yeh right)
Thanks for showing up on Elk Ridge Ernie. Even though the fire was essentially out, it is always reassuring when the pros get there, and make it safe. Not sure how the call went out about the trailer being engulfed? Thanks again, a neighbor.