Saturday, July 13, 2013

San Jose Fire Crews Tackle Major Overhaul Effort

Photo By John Whitaker
At 7:35 A.M. on Saturday, July 13, most people were probably anticipating the start of a relaxing weekend. Not the Fire Associates. It was at that early hour when the San Jose Fire Department requested our support at a fire that had burned on the previous day.
On Friday, July 12, just past 1300 hours, the Morgan Hill Cal Fire Santa Clara Unit Emergency Command Center (ECC) received calls of a brush fire on Casa Loma Road, west of Uvas/McKean Road. This area is west of Morgan Hill and southwest of San Jose, in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains.
A wildland dispatch was initiated resulting in 1 air attack, 4 air tankers, 2 copters, 2 dozers, several hand crews, and eventually more than 20 engines and water tenders -- some from San Jose and local volunteer departments. First units on scene, over 2 miles in on Casa Loma Rd., reported several acres were burning, going up a steep hill, with a potential of 500 acres and some structures threatened. Quick work by the aerial units stopped the head of the fire which was later mapped at 30 acres (downgraded from the originally estimated 55 acres).
Volunteer in Fire Prevention (VIP) member John Whiteside, also a Fire Associates member/responder, was on duty in the ECC. Hours later he was assigned to arrange for 275 meals to be obtained and delivered to the fire scene. John ordered the food, then contacted three VIPs to respond, pick up and deliver the food before sundown, using two Cal Fire pickups. Many of the ground units were released later that night.
As the firefighting efforts continued, it was determined to be entirely within San Jose city limits. Although located considerably south of the Almaden Valley, the fire had actually burned an area of the Rancho Canada del Oro Open Space Preserve that was within the city limits. That made the fire the responsibility of the San Jose Fire Department and required the efforts of firefighters who were more used to structure fires than hiking up steep slopes covered with grass, oak trees and poison oak.
When day two of the effort dawned, it was determined that the fire would require a considerable amount of overhaul on a very hot, summer day. So, SJFD requested the assistance of Fire Associates. Don Gilbert and John Whitaker responded to the call in Fire Support Unit 2. They were joined on scene by FASCV members George Hoyt and Dan Wong.
The initial firefighting was accomplished by a ground and air assault from Cal Fire crews. But, once the actual responsibility was discovered, the operation was turned over to the SJFD command staff. However, for this overhaul effort, Cal Fire did provide two inmate hand crews from the Ben Lomond Conservation Camp and some of the overhead support.
Photo By John Whitaker
On this Saturday morning, crews from 5 SJFD engine companies and a water tender were tasked to climb the hills and extinguish any smoldering trees or stumps. The concern was that winds later in the day may stir up embers and the fire could escape the containment lines. As the day progressed, and temperatures reached near 90 degrees, crews were rotated out and replaced by fresh firefighters at approximately 5-hour intervals.
Fire Associates' responsibility was to staff the rehab area and provide ice cold water, Gatorade and high-nutrition bars. A shady area was found in which to set up tables, benches and camp chairs. FASCV responsibilities also included picking up and serving approximately 70 sandwiches and chips for lunch and another pick-up run of 30 sandwiches and chips for the dinner hour.
After the evening rotation of crews arrived and were fed, Fire Associates was released at 7:50 P.M. It was a long 12 hours of service, but one that was greatly appreciated by some very weary fire crews.
-- John Whiteside and John Whitaker contributed to this report