Local firefighters battling SoCal blaze

Palo Alto sends an engine; entire team from county includes 74 firefighters

On Sunday evening, Santa Clara County Fire Chief Ken Waldvogel received an urgent request: Please send personnel to help combat the wildfires raging in Southern California.

At 10:30 p.m., the first strike team was deployed. By mid-afternoon Monday, all teams -- including 17 engines and 74 firefighters from the county -- had been dispatched, Waldvogel said.

The California Disaster and Civil Defense Master Mutual Aid Agreement -- signed by all 58 counties and nearly all city governments -- ensures that municipalities deploy manpower and resources in a crisis. Under the plan, the governor declares a disaster area, which prompts the regional coordinator to notify the county coordinator.

Santa Clara County is part of mutual-aid Region II, which ranges from Lake County to Monterey County.

The Palo Alto Fire Department sent out one engine at 1 p.m. Monday, carrying a captain, an operator and two firefighters.

"It's not mandatory to send out a team, but any time we can, we do," said Dan Lindsey, deputy chief of operations for the Palo Alto Fire Department.

The Palo Alto firefighters reported arriving safely Monday night, Lindsey said.

They first were deployed to the Magic fire north of Malibu, according to Ron Bonfiglio, Palo Alto battalion chief. Wednesday they were sent to the fire near Lake Arrowhead, and as of Thursday, they had been reassigned to the Witch fire in San Diego County, the largest acreage fire.

The commitment for mutual aid is generally seven days per team or engine crew. But for the magnitude of the current fires, the amount of time the local firefighters will be needed is an unknown, Waldvogel said.

"With circumstances as they are, I don't know if there's a maximum time," he said. "Once they're in the system, they're a really valuable resource."

Lindsey anticipates a minimum stay of seven days for the Palo Alto crew, after which time they will replace them with fresh Palo Alto strike teams.

As of Thursday morning, there were no plans for any teams to be released and returned, but Waldvogel said the Santa Clara County Fire Department would start asking about long-term plans that day.

If current crews are not released by Saturday morning, Waldvogel will consider replacing them with fresh firefighters. But Waldvogel called it a "logistical nightmare" because it involves meeting up at a base camp not in the fire line, switching out equipment and keeping careful track of resources for later reimbursement.

Expenses incurred, including the costs of sending out units and overtime pay, are usually reimbursed by the requesting agency, which in this case is the USDA Forest Service.

So far, no injuries or equipment failure have been reported for any of the Santa Clara County fire departments.

They were assisting with the Witch fire, the Grass Valley fire and the Buckweed fire. A number of teams have been redeployed from Los Angeles County to San Diego County, where the most severe fires are still raging, Waldvogel said.

Ken Kehmna, operations chief for the Santa Clara County Fire Department, observed that the Southern California wildfires are "very similar to the 'Fire Siege' of 2003" in terms of number of fires, deployment of engines and personnel and potential acreage damage.

"It's the closest correlation you can draw," he said.

The October 2003 Fire Siege burned 750,043 acres; 3,710 homes were lost; and 24 people were killed, including one firefighter, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Web site.

The Web site also noted Thursday that 10 wildfires were still burning from northern Los Angeles County to the Mexican border. The fires have burned about 500,000 acres and destroyed almost 1,500 homes. About 7,000 firefighters are battling the blazes. Only one death has been confirmed as being caused by the fires.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Water-Stops-Fire
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 24, 2007 at 5:17 pm

Safe Journey and Good Luck ..

 +   Like this comment
Posted by GSB
a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 24, 2007 at 8:07 pm

Thank you, firefighters!

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Fireman
a resident of another community
on Oct 24, 2007 at 9:28 pm

Take care... Be carful....

This shows how hard it is to buget overtime..See saleries for the Firefighters who go to fight these fires. Might be overtime, straight pay or a combonation of the two. Not knowing how many large fires during a year or number of hours are taken to fight these fires.
Also while members of the Department are gone fighting fires or doing other emergency work, there positions in the City of Palo Alto need to be filled. This could be in the same manner as above.
Firefighters work hard and give up much of are lifes, too help.

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Be Safe
a resident of another community
on Oct 25, 2007 at 6:50 am

Thanks guys!! We know what a great job you are doing down south! You are in our thoughts, come home safe!

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Drawing parrallels
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 25, 2007 at 7:47 am

It is too dangerous! We can't fight it, it will just overrun them! Just let the fires burn! No blood for homes! Bring them home now!

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Fireman
a resident of another community
on Oct 25, 2007 at 10:14 am

It does not work that way. It is are job. What you pay us for. What we train for, We must take care of are selfs out there.

Support us,help us help you.

Thanks... For caring..

It was very rewarding for me to help people in need. The thanks you get from them, Keeps you going through all the <BS>

Please just be there when WE/firefighters and Paramedics need YOU

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Drawing parrallels
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 25, 2007 at 10:18 am

To Fireman: I completely and absolutely agree with you 100%. My point was ironic, maybe verging on sarcastic, to draw a parrallel with the people who claim to "support our troops" while telling them it is hopeless, too dangerous, and not worth it.

I completely support you and would happily pay MORE taxes for the risky job you do, bless you and your profession daily, and support you in your training, equipment and goals.

Much gratitude.

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Fireman
a resident of another community
on Oct 25, 2007 at 3:08 pm

Thank you. It is so hard to understand what is going on in The City of Palo Alto.Hard to grasp what the public will tolerate. Or what they think. {Mike}
I think part of the problem is that, things have gotten so bad,so unbelievable that people think it can't be real.
Who would pay 250k for that web site. Who would spend huge amounts of money on programs that are not active in the City and have not been approved before the money was spent. The list goes on. Who would beleive Frank still have a job. Taking into account what others lose there jobs for in this City. Lets see Brandon..Emily Harrison... Who would you cast off?

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