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The Buckhorn

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Winters Express
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Crews mop up after fire

Staff writer

Residents of the areas west of Winters that were evacuated during the Monticello Fire had returned home by Monday morning, July 7, knowing that Cal Fire and the sheriff’s office said the area was out of danger.
But Cal Fire trucks, bulldozers and water tankers were still being brought in via Road 34 in great numbers at 7 a.m. that morning. Once the fire danger was suppressed, it was time to begin the second part of Cal Fire’s mission: restoration and repair.
An owner of a water truck company from Calaveras County explained why they were there.
“We are part of the clean-up crew. We go in and water roads and restore water to ponds if they have been used by the helicopter crews. Fences that have been taken down get put back up. If city water has been used, it will be replaced or the city reimbursed. I’m a former firefighter myself as are many others of the support units here. That way we know what conditions we are likely to encounter.”
“We try to repair any damage caused by the fire suppression activities,” said Kevin Lucero, public information officer for the Monticello Fire. “All infrastructure damage is repaired — fences, gates, culverts, bridges. We are greatly concerned, in a fire like this one, on steep terrain, that we have not created roads with our bulldozer activity that could lead to mudslides when the rains finally come, so we make water breaks to divert rain flow away from the roadbed. The steeper the grade, the closer the spacing of water breaks. For example, on a grade from zero to 10 percent, the spacing is every 200 feet.”
Numerous cleared roads are visible now in the hills to the west of Winters. One of the Cal Fire personnel commented that, by and large, the bulldozers were using old ranch roads, enlarging and smoothing them.
“The bulldozers put in containment lines well ahead of the fire,” said Lucero. “In the far perimeter, the lines may be only a couple of blades wide, but closer in to the fire they can be anywhere from three to six blades wide. Those operators, frequently firemen themselves, are expert at judging how and where to make a line.” Another part of the restoration program will be to replant the bulldozer lines.
Management and protection of California forests is a large part of Cal Fire’s responsibility. What that means in practice is that during a wildfire, there are fire behavior analysts who make daily reports on fuel moisture content, live fuel/dead fuel ratios, weather and wind, and advise firefighters on the ground about the kind of fire they will be fighting in a specific region.
Firefighters use an old terminology to measure fire speed: “chains.” One chain is equal to 66 feet; six chains are about 400 feet; one mile is 80 chains. You might hear someone say, “That fire was burning 20 chains a minute,” which means that the forward spread of the fire was 1,320 feet per minute or 15 miles/hour.
“The lighter the fuel, the steeper the terrain, the faster a fire will burn,” said Johnny Miller, a public information officer for Cal Fire’s management team, which was headquartered at the Yolo County Fairgrounds in Woodland. “The radiant heat from a grass, brush-type fire that we have here can burn you when the flames are still 30 feet away. That is completely different from a tree fire, which, in general, is slower moving, and you can hear the trees falling as they burn.
“The main thing I, as a firefighter, do is to make sure I have a way out. There always has to be a fall-back position or it is not safe.
“Every homeowner should have the same attitude. You need to have a safety zone around your home, so firefighters can get in to fight the fire back and also have room to maneuver to get you out.”
Cal Fire also has an archaeology program, because wild fires and fire suppression methods can be a threat to cultural resources. Archaeologists are routinely assigned to wildfire incidents, according to the Cal Fire website.
The Incident Command Post at the Yolo County Fairgrounds was a fully mobilized city. Kitchens prepare food including box lunches for the clean-up crews; mobile sleepers hold up to 45 people and are air conditioned; pup tents galore; a repair shop; a finance section; medical unit; showers, bathrooms. The management team includes an operations unit that makes tactical and strategic decisions. A liaison unit coordinates cooperation with local units of police, sheriff, CalTrans. The safety team makes sure all the Protective Personal Equipment (PPE) is in good shape. And there are teams for logistics, planning, and transportation for both animals and people.
“We are always planning and training,” said Miller. “Our personnel are in a constant state of readiness. Our priorities are to protect life, property and the environment. It is very satisfying to work with a team of people whose overreaching goal is to help others.”
More information about restoration and repair can be found on the Cal Fire website at