USA– As helicopters and air tankers made drops Sunday afternoon along a ridge near San Andreas, the mood around the Cal Fire base camp in Angels Camp was calm and organized. The Calaveras County Fairgrounds at 101 Frogtown Road have been transformed into a bustling incident command center capable of managing the massive effort to battle the 102-square-mile Butte Fire.
As helicopters and air tankers made drops Sunday afternoon along a ridge near San Andreas, the mood around the Cal Fire base camp in Angels Camp was calm and organized.
The Calaveras County Fairgrounds at 101 Frogtown Road have been transformed into a bustling incident command center capable of managing the massive effort to battle the 102-square-mile Butte Fire.
Cal Fire moved the base from Amador County on Saturday, relocating evacuees who were housed at the fairgrounds to centers in Valley Springs.
How all of this works is like we build a little city, said Julie Rider of Consumnes Fire, who is serving as a public information officer on the Butte Fire. These ladies and gentlemen work hard, and everybody works well together.
More than 4,100 fire personnel were assigned as of Sunday afternoon, with some having traveled across the United States to help with the intense firefight thats now in its fifth day.
Cal Fire Incident Management Team 1, one of six throughout the state, is overseeing operations at the base and directing activity.
About a dozen trailers have been set up around the fairgrounds that each serve a different purpose, including a medical unit, mobile communications truck and weather center.
At the heart of coordinating resources from the base is a mobile communications truck loaded to the brim with more than a $1 million worth of equipment.
A team of radio dispatchers help direct traffic from inside the truck, which also provides phone and Internet service to the rest of the base.
Well support everything down to portable phones and fax machines, said Alex Trujillo, a Cal Fire communications technician from San Diego.
The base was fairly quiet Sunday afternoon as many firefighters were on the fire lines.
Alyssa Smith, spokeswoman for Cal Fire in Sacramento, said the number of personnel at the base can range from several hundred to several thousand depending on the time of day and when shifts change.
Many firefighters from Southern California are assigned to the blaze, including places like Los Angeles, Laguna and Newport Beach. Smith said some from Nevada have been spotted at the camp as well.
Firefighters from out of the area must first check-in when they arrive so that command staff can keep track of the personnel and ensure they are all properly certified to work on the fire.
Prison inmate crews and the California Conservation Corps also play roles in the effort, with some serving as firefighters and others in support roles at the base.
One of the inmate crews operates a mobile kitchen unit that cooks hot meals for firefighters twice a day, including steaks, ribs and burgers. Extra tents were being erected Sunday to expand the dining area.
Smith said firefighters are also provided a sack lunch each day containing roughly 4,000 calories worth of food, from energy bars to sandwiches.
Cal Fire firefighters sleep in area hotels as part of the terms in their labor union contract. However, those from other agencies can stay in about a dozen air-conditioned sleep trailers at the base that each house roughly 24 people at a time.
Meteorologists and analysts were hovering over laptops in a trailer at the base Sunday afternoon trying to get a jump on how the weather may affect the fires behavior in the coming days.
Were trying to stay ahead of the weather so that we can advise the crews out there what the weathers going to do over the next 24 to 48 hours, said Don Watt, a fire behavior analyst with Cal Fire Incident Management Team 1.
As meteorologists predict the weather, Watt uses the information to advise fire crews on conditions they may encounter on the ground, such as changes in flame lengths and where the fire is most likely to spread.
National Weather Service meteorologist Terry Lebo, who is in charge of predicting weather on the Butte Fire, arrived at the base Friday after traveling from his home in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Though cooler weather over the weekend has aided efforts to contain the blaze, Lebo is monitoring a front coming in Monday night and Tuesday that could bring southwest winds with gusts of up to 30 mph along ridge tops.
When you get strong winds, youre adding not just the push of the wind but youre also adding more oxygen, he said. So the fire can burn hotter and faster.