Local firefighters report from front
They live in California but took a two-day road trip in a fire engine to fight a blaze in Wyoming.
A group of Lake Valley fire fighters joined an emergency strike team and left town Aug. 20 to battle wildland fires threatening homes north of Jackson Hole.
Today, after more than a week of training and clearing wood in the area, the Lake Valley team is expected to leave its engine behind, take a boat trip across Jackson Lake and attempt to stop the progress of a 2,000 acre fire known as “Wilcox Complex.”
“Their new assignment is to take tents, portable pumps and food and get dropped on the other side of the lake,” Lake Valley Fire Chief John Ceko said. “Their safety zone is the lake.”
Ceko said the team plans to pump water from the lake and use it to battle the blaze. They will also cut fire lines, do some “burning out” and extinguish any spot fires.
Digging fire lines is considered an offensive move meant to control and confine a fire. “Burning out,” the act of burning the vegetation between firefighters and the blaze is more of a defensive move, one that Ceko said the strike team will likely employ.
Lake Valley’s strike team consists of five OES engines. Set apart by their yellow paint, OES engines are owned by the California’s Office of Emergency Services. The state buys and pays for the maintainence of the trucks, but they are used and kept at fire departments throughout the state and called on in times of emergency.
Sending a strike team from California to Wyoming is very unusual.
Lake Valley Captain Jerrry Lucas, a firefighter who has worked in Lake Valley for 27 years, said OES emergency calls are rare and the engine, until now, has never traveled out of state farther than Nevada.
Lake Valley’s OES engine teamed up with OES trucks from North Tahoe Fire, El Dorado County Fire and Sacramento fire departments. Lake Valley sent three paid firefighters and two volunteers to man its engine. On staff, the department keeps a total of 18 paid firefighters and 18 volunteers. Lake Valley’s strike team will be joined on the edge of Jackson Lake by a strike team from the Bay Area.
With almost a million and a half acres of land burning in the United States, is Tahoe Basin the next place to catch fire? The fall is the time of year when the state is most susceptible to wildland fires because it’s the driest and most windy season.
“We have an overstocked forest right now,” said Tahoe-Douglas Assistant Fire Chief Bruce Van Cleemput. “We have a lot of heavy fuels and many of these fuels are dead. The conditions are right for the spread of a catastrophic fire.”
Despite it being ripe for a fire, the basin has not experienced any major fires, ones greater than 1,000 acres, this century. Tahoe-Douglas Fire Captain Rich Nader attributes the success to aggressive management by the U.S. Forest Service and alert residents.
“People spot them quick,” he said. “People are very aware of fire because it’s a beautiful area. They don’t want to see it go away.”
Ways to Keep Your Home Wildfire Proof
– create defensive space around the house by clearing trees and brush
– clear away “ladder fuels” such as grass that leads to brush that leads to trees
– put a spark arrester on the chimney
– cut tree limbs 10 to 15 feet back from the chimney
– keep your roof clean and free of pine needles
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