Mid Season Fire "Break"

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.


  • Mike says:

    Anon, You and I know every firefighter wants to save homes and property. Structure protection is a rewarding gig.The evidence is in however that the Forest Service is much more cautious in defining “defensible”.The folks on Partington Ridge, Apple Pie Ridge and Tassajara proved their homes were defensible by making stands to protect their homes after the FS refused to help.The Basin command had more than a week to prepare those properties.I understand the Forest Service are still feeling the pain of Esperanza, we all are but I sense the pendulum has swung too far on the side of caution now.The Telegragh was an all out initial attack and every home in the path had an structure protection crew in the driveway within 36 hours.

  • Anonymous says:

    The Forest Service is also committed to protecting “defensible” structures, as evidenced by the hundreds of homes and businesses that were saved on both the east and west sides of the Basin Complex. The number of homes burned in the Basin Complex was 25, five fewer than the number that burned in the Cal-Fire-managed Telegraph Fire.

  • bigsurkate says:

    Let us just pray that the second half of the season does not take as many lives, nor burn as many acres.Thanks for keeping us informed, Mike

  • Raleigh says:

    great reminder article. Our crew just returned home from the iron and alps complex and the Slinkard Fire. We are all anticipating the Southern California fire season if it develops…

  • Mike says:

    Hi Carol, I would contact the California OES people at this LINK!Good luck. I will follow this situation as it develops.Mike

  • Carol Johnson says:

    Mike, I’ve been looking at BAER reports for the various California fires. Basin Fire – BAER team was on hand from the beginning. FEMA and the Governor have proclaimed disaster areas. However, I live in Mariposa and am concerned about the Telegraph Fire (53 sq mi). I can’t find anything about a BAER team working in the area; no disaster as been proclaimed. The watershed implications of Telegraph are huge. I’m hoping you are better tuned into the situation and can tell me where to look to find out who is doing what now. Thank you. Carol Johnson Mariposa

  • Mike says:

    Thank you for the correction.Mike

  • Anonymous says:

    Chief Packer died on the Panther Fire on the Klamath N.F., not the Shasta-Trinity N.F.