Thursday, August 28, 2014

Fire Crews and Fire Associates Faced with Logistical Challenges at Recent Vegetation Fire

Photo By Bruce Dembecki

Shortly after 3:00 P.M. on Thursday, August 28, Cal Fire Morgan Hill began receiving reports of a traffic collision and vegetation fire along Highway 152, east of Casa De Fruta in Gilroy. Cal Fire responded a "Medium" response (8 engines, 2 hand crews, 2 dozers, a copter, and 2 tankers) along with a municipal response of Type 1 engines from Gilroy, South County, and Hollister along. South County water tenders were also dispatched. Arriving units found fire in heavy brush on both sides of the highway. By 4:00 P.M., with resources arriving on scene, the IC requested 3 additional Type III immediate need strike teams and 4 more water tenders. Air attack ordered more tankers and received a total of 4 Cal Fire S2T Tankers and the larger Tanker 60, a DC7, along with a second helicopter crew. Highway 152 was closed to traffic in both directions.
By 4:30 P.M.,  Casa IC was requesting more resources, including the Cal Fire Communications Van and Fire Associates.
Bruce Dembecki responded with Fire Support Unit 2 and picked up Fire Associates member John Whiteside on the way to the fire ground. Once east of Gilroy, the team was able to bypass the standstill traffic on Highway 152 with the assistance of San Jose Engine 202 and Water Tender 2. Once through the road closures at Casa De Fruta, FSU-2 was attached to a medical call at Pacheco Fire Station (see separate incident report), before continuing on to the fire ground.
Upon arrival (around 6:30 P.M.), the Fire Associates crew worked with Cal Fire Logistics to setup hydration points on the East Bound side of the freeway, before moving on to set up a Rehab station on the Westbound side. The freeway was separated by a high concrete barrier and the firefighting efforts on either side were setup as different branches. At the same time as we were setting up Rehab operations Cal Trans was working to section off the center lane of the freeway and open traffic in both directions int he single lane, giving the fire crews plenty of room on the right side of the freeway in either direction. The addition of traffic further served to cut off the two Branches from each other, and having rehab on both sides was important.
Photo By Bruce Dembecki
The fire was burning in heavy brush on the mountain pass between the Pacheco Valley floor and the County line up at Dinosaur Point. The rapid and large scale response of air resources prevented the fire from spreading with one side held to around 30 acres, and other at around 50. But getting full containment on the fire would prove to be a challenge (and ultimately take until Sunday). Crews were faced with extremely dense brush and steep steep cliffs, and the scene from the freeway looking up at the fire had fire crews looking and acting like mountain goats as they dealt with the steep sides of the mountain.
Water supply was an issue for fire crews, as there was no nearby water source, and, while they could get out of the fire scene easily, getting back through the traffic was a challenge. Some Water Tender crews went east for water, drafting from the San Luis Reservoir, while others headed west and into Hollister to pull water from the municipal system. Either way, with heavy traffic a major issue, a Water Tender was in for a two-hour round trip to go, fill, and return. In addition to the South County Water Tenders, there were Water Tenders from San Jose, Fremont, and several from Merced County, to the east of the fire's location. Later in the evening, contract water tenders began to arrive on scene to help haul water.
In addition to the original Cal Fire Medium response, and the municipal engines on the initial dispatch, there were two Cal Fire Type III Strike Teams and a Type III Strike Team from Santa Clara County Fire. These units were assisted by 5 or 6 hand crews from the Gabilan Conservation Camp, located south of Salinas.
The Cal Fire Comm Van, which was dispatched at the same time as FSU-2 from Morgan Hill, had problems gaining access to the scene through the traffic. Unlike FSU-2, the Comm Van is not equipped with emergency warning lights and spent several hours sitting in the standstill traffic on Highway 152, eventually arriving on scene shortly after 11:00 P.M.
Fire Support Unit 2 remained on scene providing fire crews water, Gatorade and cliff Bars into the night. Shortly before midnight Cal Fire's catering contractor arrived with 270 meals and pallets of Gatorade and Water, all setup in a refrigerated truck. This would be key as it was clear the operation would be ongoing for several days. FSU-2 was released by 12:30 A.M. and was back in quarters in San Jose at 1:45 A.M.
-- Report submitted by Bruce Dembecki