Fire agencies ramp up for possible lightning storms

Fireagencies ramp up for possible lightning storms

22 July 2006

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Lightning activity anticipated in Northern California over the weekend has spurred local, state and federal fire agencies to bring additional firefighting resources to the north state.

Kevin O’Neil, operations chief for the Humboldt-Del Norte Unit of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said staffing levels have been increased to four people per engine, and additional personnel are on duty.

“We’ve got some extra overhead on, and we staffed up the command center.” O’Neil added that the unit’s two reserve engines had also been staffed.

CDF Fire Capt. Dennis Scales, who works at CDF’s Fortuna command center, said CDF personnel have been held on duty.

“We’re holding everyone on. Everyone.”

Additionally, he said, the U.S. Forest Service had brought extra equipment to Northern California, including 15 fire engines, which will be deployed primarily on the east side of the Sacramento Valley.

A volunteer engine from the Arcata Fire Protection District is standing by at the Trinidad Forest Fire Station, and O’Neil said he has coordinated additional coverage with other local fire agencies.

But it may be all for naught.

“The lightning kind of petered out,” O’Neil said Saturday. “We had some yesterday, and they thought they’d have a second wave today, but it petered out.”

Sten Tjaden, a forecaster at the Eureka office of the National Weather Service said a slight chance of thunderstorms would remain in the local forecast through the weekend and possibly into Monday, with lightning most likely over the Shasta Trinities and into the Siskiyou mountains.

But Tjaden said the situation is likely to be worse to the east and south.

“There’s currently a widespread convection over the southern half of the state.” He said satellite imagery showed numerous downstrikes over the Sierras.

Even if there is no lightning, O’Neil said, the additional assistance within the unit is appreciated. Local CDF resources have been significantly depleted by fires in other parts of the state.

As of Saturday, 14 hand crews and eight engines were out of the unit. Two hand crews and eight engines, plus the Arcata engine, were available for dispatch.

But despite 111-degree heat Friday in the southern part of Humboldt County, O’Neil said, fire activity has been generally light within the unit.

“This week, for example, we’ve had only four or five fires, the biggest up in Crescent City.”

He attributed the slow start of the fire season to moist fuels and to something more important.

“People are being more careful,” he said.

by Heather Muller


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