When the fire alarm rang on Tuesday, Feb. 11, at the Cal Fire Station in Three Rivers, it wasn’t entirely unexpected. The drought has already prompted Governor Brown to issue a disaster preparedness proclamation that included the early staffing of Cal Fire stations all over California.
In fact, Battalion Chief Derek Staberg, who was one of the firefighters who responded to the recent North Fork fire, said this was the earliest ever he could recall for bringing on the seasonal firefighters to staff up for fire season.
It was fortuitous that Cal Fire was on duty to assist the Tulare County engine that responded to Tuesday’s blaze. Although the fire was nearly contained when firefighters arrived, another gust of wind and the burning hillside could have quickly become a raging inferno.
A sudden gust of wind is what caused the fire to spread in the first place almost immediately after a local property owner lit the first of several dry piles of grass and weeds that were in the pasture located adjacent to 41836 North Fork Drive. Fire spread quickly in the tinder-dry pasture and for a moment or two threatened a couple of homes nearby.
Locals who were at the scene when the fire started helped extinguish the flames; the firefighters stood by to make sure it was out and mopped up. The burn pile fire served as a reminder how potentially dangerous any fire can be, especially in a drought.
Pastures like this one contain dry vegetation that, when ignited, can easily become airborne embers spreading fire wherever they touch down. Burn days will be few and far between this season so some property owners might be tempted take risks when conditions are less than ideal.
Burning safely means clearing all flammable material within 10 feet of the edges of the pile. Piles should be no bigger than four feet in diameter. Keep a water supply close to the burn site. And an adult should be in attendance with a shovel until the fire is out.
Burning can only be done with a permit, and burn permits are only valid on permissive burn days as determined by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.
Signage is critical too, and Tuesday’s fire underscored the need for each property owner to ensure that the fire departments can find an address. If a driveway is shared then let both fire stations know what’s back there and where.
During Tuesday’s fire, the first responders drove past the driveway and had to turn around. That critical minute or two can make all the difference.
Tulare County Fire— At the February town meeting, Chief Joe Garcia, Tulare County Fire Department, cautioned that his agency expects the drought to raise the level of fire danger to extreme for 2014. He also furnished an end-of-year summary for the activities his agency.
In 2013, county fire personnel responded to 12,084 calls; an average of more than 1,000 calls a month.
“That means we were quite busy,” Chief Garcia said. “We also reviewed 569 building permit applications, conducted 7,262 weed abatement inspections, installed 1,300 carbon monoxide/smoke detectors, and gave numerous public outreach presentations at schools, and the county fair.”