We are entering the second half of the 2008 West Coast fire season. Central and northern California have owned the stage from May through August but soon the Santa Ana winds will begin pushing hot dry air from the high desert into the Los Angeles Basin, Inland Empire and coastal communities like Malibu.
San Diego has been quiet, uncomfortably quiet and they are as dry as everyone else on the West Coast. Residents of Julian, Ramona and Escondido will be sleeping with one eye open for the next few months.
Reflecting back on the first half of this historic fire season a couple of stories stick out. The Basin Complex was a study of old school firefighting vs a fiercely independent Big Sur community. Local bloggers were quick to rally the community with maps, fire info, news and pertinent information on individual properties. Old school meet the new world and begin thinking about adding a (new media) public relations spot on your command teams.
From the Basin Fire we learned definitively there are limits to how far the Forest Service will go to protect structures. The Tassajara Mountain Center was left to burn by the Forest Service but was saved by five residents of Tassajara. Personal liability of fire commanders seems now to be front and center. It’s clear homeowners in the urban-rural interface will have to take matters into their own hands (within limitations) in the future.
The Telegraph Fire showed how a determined air assault can stop a fire dead. At one point 16 fixed wing aircraft bombed the Telegraph as it burned in inhospitable terrain. The sustained air assault from fixed wing craft with the support of 15 helicopters kept the fire from burning into Yosemite Valley. The Telegraph Fire reaffirmed what we already knew about Cal Fire, they are committed to protecting defensible structures. Hundreds of homeowners in Mariposa and Midpines saw this first hand.
The first half of the season brought great loss as 9 of our brothers from Oregon died in a helicopter crash in the Trinity Alps.
Death in the forest is indiscriminate. Eighteen year old Firefighter Andy Palmer died on the Eagle Fire in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest and 50 year old Fire Chief Dan Packer died on the Panther Fire in the Klamath National Forest.
In early July, 63 year old volunteer Firefighter Robert Roland died after fighting a fire in Mendocino County.
Firefighter Palmer at 18 was among the youngest on the fire lines this summer. Chief Packer among the most experienced and Firefighter Roland perhaps the oldest and least experienced.
Residents in the upper Sacramento Valley, Redding in particular spent weeks under smoke filled air. Outside of Redding not much has been written about the economic toll on their local economy.
Both Cal Fire and the Forest Service have blown out their budgets for the season.
The curtain closes on an historic first half of the California fire season.
When you hear a siren or see an air tanker overhead say a prayer for the safety of the responders.