We are so fortunate to live, work, and play in one of the safest cities in the nation thanks to an excellent and dedicated Fire Department and Police Department. In my opinion, both departments are second to none.
Based on what is happening with wild fires in our state, my thoughts turn to the brave men and women of our Fire Department. I would like to share some comments from our Fire Chief John Healy in an email to me:
I wanted to share some of my thoughts regarding wildfires the State has been experiencing this summer. It is clear that four years of drought has resulted in much drier plant fuels which in turn has resulted in fire behavior conditions that are unprecedented. This summer has been busier than previous years with local government providing assistance to the State numerous times since late July. This past week the State experienced the start of two devastating fires within days of each other. The first fire, called the Butte Fire, broke out in Amador County east of Jackson and quickly spread south into Calaveras County. The fire claimed two lives, destroyed over 70 thousand acres and more than 250 homes and hundreds of outbuildings like barns and sheds. Foster City sent a four person Engine company to assist as part of a Strike Team made up of 5 Engines from San Mateo, Central Fire, San Bruno Fire, and a Strike Team Leader from San Mateo. They were part of three Strike Teams from San Mateo County sent to assist the State in controlling this wildfire. Shortly after their departure to the Butte Fire, a new fire broke out in Lake County near the towns of Cobb and Middletown. This new fire was called the Valley Fire and it spread with such ferocity that fire modeling tools could not even calculate the rate of spread because it was beyond any historical data recorded and programmed into that tool. The Valley Fire grew to over 50 thousand acres in the first day and consumed close to 600 houses, 10 businesses, and hundreds of outbuildings. In the first 30 minutes of the fire, it spread faster than anyone has experienced before and trapped four firefighters, resulting in serious burn injuries to those firefighters. For the next 12 hours, firefighters focused their efforts on assisting 6 thousand people living in the fire's path in evacuation. Unfortunately, there were at least two civilians that were unable to escape the flames and perished. The fire also spread into Napa and Sonoma Counties. The Fire Chief for the Lake/Napa unit put out a plea for assistance of any type from anywhere to come to that community's aid. Although San Mateo County had already sent three Strike Teams and several other resources out to the Butte Fire and were at maximum level of aid provided out of County, the local area Chiefs decided to send out 5 more resources which were made up of a four person Engine from Foster City, a Brush Engine from San Mateo, an Engine from Central Fire, and an Engine from County Fire, along with an Engine from San Francisco City Fire to respond to the Valley Fire and assist in controlling the fire that is now over 73 thousand acres.
As the Fire Chief, I wanted to share with you that this decision to send more resources than normal was challenging and I constantly think about making certain we have enough resources to handle all types of emergencies. Currently Foster City has 8 of our 26 members out on State fires, and San Mateo has 9 of their 70 members out. All stations and apparatus are currently staffed at our normal daily levels, but much of it is our off-duty personnel working additional days. This extra work adds a great deal of strain to the organization because the members are missing planned family events like birthdays, anniversaries, and their kids' sporting events. I must say I am very proud to lead such a dedicated group of professionals who clearly put others' needs before their own. I recall responding to the Oakland Hills Fire as a firefighter 25 years ago and witnessing first hand fire spread that was outside of any norm of that time. I witnessed total destruction of over 2 thousand homes and wished that I could have done more. I am experiencing many of those same emotions today when I thnk about the Valley Fire and the members of Lake County who have lost everything. I look forward to all the fire in the State being fully extinguished and all of our members returning home safely.