Friday, September 14, 2012

The Bane of Our Existance

If you were to poll our membership, I think that most of us would say that they have a dislike of fighting fire in the river bottom. I think the same could be said for the neighboring departments as well.

I was doing some work over at a property that my wife's family owns, getting it ready for some people to move in. I had a radio on as I often do when working over there by myself and heard a call come in for a reported brush fire in the river bottom.

Though it was hot out, there wasn't much wind and the RH was pretty high. I didn't think that it would turn out to be much so I kept working. The first in engine was still a mile or so away when he reported a large header visible. I put down my tools and grabbed my camera bag.

When I photograph fires in this area, I usually go to the dead end of a certain street and get a good look-see. It's up on the bluff and provides a good view of the area.  Then I can plan where best access will be and where staging and the command post will likely be. 

If you enlarge the above photo, you will see a couple of guy's heads sticking up through the weeds. They appear as yellow dots in the left, lower quadrant of the photo. The area is criss-crossed with footpaths and trails, there are quite a few people who call the river bottom home.

Conditions on fires down there can change rapidly. A wind shift of a few degrees can affect intensity as can the wide variation of fuels. You have to stay on your toes.

The long lens stuff got old quick, it was time to get my PPE on and head down the hill.

By then units were starting to roll in. This is E3 crew working an 1 1/2" on the right flank. This area usually burns dirty and access issues prevent you from starting a hose lay from a secure anchor point. Protection lines, escape routes and safety zones are a must.

The density of the fuel is a pain. It burns hot when it gets going and it impedes mobility.

When the river bottom gets going, everybody gets a chance to play.  The county came in with several engines, a couple of hand crews and a helicopter. The engine in the foreground is a county engine, the one in the background is a county engine. Both crews ended up working a hoseline pulled off of the city engine.

Broken hose blues. The composite crew works to replace a section of broken hose. Another reason to have an escape route in place, a lot of bad things can happen while waiting for a busted length to be replaced.

 Pull hose!

If you holler "Hey Cap" to anybody wearing a red helmet, odds are that they will turn around.  Just sayin', I still do.

I like the shot below, it shows that the lay has been extended as far as it can go and is about to be extended. The next length has already been dropped, unrolled and is ready to go. As soon as the nozzleman calls for it, the hose will then be clamped and the next length added on. It's magic when everybody works together.

Hot, humid, nasty day. These rarely happen on nice days. All I had to carry was a camera bag. My days of lugging a hose pack through the brush are over and I am grateful.

 The county helped out with their helicopter. It is an invaluable tool when fighting fire in places like this.

After working my way around to the left flank of the fire, I found these guys.

This is the helattack crew assigned to the helicopter in the picture above. They are assigned to the helicopter and flown in to remote areas to begin operations until ground resources can make access. Though I don't think that they were requested for this fire, they kind of came with the helicopter. Besides, there was plenty of work to go around.

The nature of the river bottom also mandates that despite everyone's best efforts, an ember will get across the control line and smolder for a while before flaring up and causing a stir. It's just the way it is. That is why units were on scene overnight and into the next day.

The chiefs had their hands full as well. Not only these chiefs, but the ones arranging station coverage, call-backs, logistical support and future planning.

We have several of these river bottom fires a year. I don't miss them at all, though I must admit they CAN photograph well. 

Everybody worked their tail off, a couple to the point of injury. As miserable as the day was, it may have been a blessing. The Santa Ana winds are due in a few weeks and the fuel has been cooking all summer. As much as the burning river bottom is hated now, it is hated more with a 30 MPH wind pushing it. Whatever burns now can't burn then.

Sorry for the long post, but I was able to get a lot of pictures. Apologies to the Saint I Am Married To for not getting that lighting issue resolved. Thanks to you for reading.


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