Wednesday, Oct 12 2011 02:55 PM

Cooperation: this is how battles are won

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Tent cities, like this one where firefighters are getting a meal between shifts, rose up during massive wildfires fought in Kern County in early September. In this article Tehachapi resident Jim Murray reflects on the cooperative effort that it took to fight the fires.

It may seem as if the fires in our area in early September took place a long time ago, but for awhile they captured our attention. Reporting on various fires in our area was through TV, radio, and our own Tehachapi News. This, you might say, is “the rest of the story.”

A headline on Tuesday, Sept. 13, read “Wild Fires: a week of burning.”

One of the keys to reading the newspaper is you see the headlines and you can continue reading the rest of that story, read all of the paper or set it aside for later. And later, you might have some questions you didn’t have in the beginning, such as how do all of the agencies get together when there is a major event such as the fires.

One of the keys to having equipment and personnel on the ground quickly is the master mutual asset agreement, or you might say, you help me and I will help you. This is why we see so many units from all over the state. One thing know, it works! On three different occasions, I stopped on Tehachapi Boulevard to speak to Cal Fire personnel.

They had a very powerful pressure water-washing unit to clean fire equipment to prevent seeds and insects from being moved from one location to another. Cal Fire personnel did a full inspection of all units before they returned to their home base. All, and any repairs would be made at the Tehachapi location, including tires, filters, and any other safety issues. Over 500 units would be inspected, washed, and repaired as needed. One very important comment made many times was, “What nice people you have in Tehachapi, and the food they bring to us is great!”

I heard a few people mention they might have to move horses or cattle from Cummings Valley. Being the novice news hound I am, I wondered how the ostrich farm would round up and move all those birds from their farm. Would a cowpoke use a rope or a feather duster to move those birds? The personnel at the farm assured me that they had ample trailers to move all the birds if they were ordered to evacuate.

Then I went on to Stallion Springs where I met with Mark, the Cal Fire information officer. An important part of his responsibility was to keep the public updated on all aspects of the Comanche Complex fire. On the afternoon of Sept. 12, 23,000 acres involved in the Comanche burn, with approximately 30 percent containment. On Monday evening, firefighters worked diligently to protect over 2,300 homes and structures that were threatened, and none were last. This number referred to in and around the Stallion Springs area.

A few of the many cooperating agencies involved in fighting the southeast portion of the Comanche Complex fire were Cal Fire, Stallion Springs Police, Kern County Sheriff, Kern County Fire, Mutual Aid Assist, and Stallion Springs CERT team, who when on duty also served 200 sack meals to firemen who were protecting homes.

Let’s look at information on the various fires in Kern County since Sept. 4.

Tehachapi News covered the local fires. On the front page of the Tehachapi News from Sept. 20 is a photo of a banner made up by the Tehachapi High School ASB club, stating ‘Thank you firefighters for being Kern County Heroes.’ A statement by a fire chief sums up the question often asked, “Why are firefighters such special people? Is it the training or the desire?” His answer was, “They care about people and they great about the moral boost they get from the community they serve.”

I revisited the base camp at the old Monroe school. This once very active location filled with firefighters, support units, equipment, and others is now empty and clean like any other fire station. Stopping at the Tehachapi Cal Fire cleaning, repair, and inspection, there were a few personnel staying behind to inspect the remaining equipment still on the fire sites. This facility had done a total of 800 wash, repair, and inspection units.

The next stop was the Hart Flat base camp for the Breckenridge fire.

The day I arrived there was still a fully operational camp with all of the support camps still in place. This would be a model of most support camps of fire engulf. This camp had 12 trailers brought in from Placerville. The trailers housed everything you could think of from medical units to finance to mobile communication and much more.

The base has areas for supplies, a complete kitchen, showers, and camping areas for CCC even seperate areas for both men and women inmates. Each fire complex has a risk analysis unit, fire behavior, terrain units not to mention hydration (they need 1.5 gallon of water per shift) etc. This is a small city set up in less than 24 hours.

The Breckenridge fire started Sept. 10 and by Sept. 16, it was 90 percent contained. 25,000 acres were burned and as many as 1058 personnel were assigned to this fire. As many as 5000 covered the local area.

I stopped by Bear Valley, my local station, and their equipment was cleaned and ready to roll, hopefully not going to any more 24 hour sleepovers.

Also thanks to the many volunteers and CERT teams supporting the ball park staging area. Kern County with various conditions experienced over 50 started by the lightning storm. Property owners, please clean around your property as this will help. The latest fires should give the residents the assurance that our police, fire, and public safety officers are ready to roll. Keep them fully funded for our protection. Oversee the politicians with your vote.

JIM MURRAY is a Tehachapi

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