LOCAL RESIDENTS WATCH OVER THE BACKCOUNTRY.
Volunteering as a “Smoke Detector” at the Konocti Fire Tower has become a reality for the 29 local residents in Lake County California late in the 2015 Fire season. On September 12, 2015 the Forest Fire Lookout Association as a Cal Fire Partner conducted class room training at the Kelseyville Fire Station.
Training went well until 1330 when the three Cal Fire “Firefighters” giving the Fire Shelter training was suddenly interrupted with a message of “Return to Duty”. Shane Harris stepped up and completed that Fire Shelter training process. Within five minutes of initial call approx. ten of the class attendees received calls that their house was burning or a neighbor’s property was on fire. With permission for them to leave, we continued with those remaining. This was the beginning of what is now the well-known “Valley Fire” which burned 73,700 acres, destroyed 585 homes and hundreds of other buildings, 13,000 people displaced, 7,473 homes threatened, four firefighters injured, three confirmed deaths and 4,096 firefighters fighting the fire.
Shane and I returned to Kelsey-Cobb Fire Station and were informed that the Cal Fire station we were staying at was three miles from the fire, and CHP had already set-up a roadblock 100 feet up from the station. When advised to evacuate, we packed our gear, secured the station and drove towards Kelseyville as we plotted our strategy. The massive column of smoke was impressive and we watched Pryocumulus clouds form. Shane called Kelseyville Fire Station and told them the situation and they told us to come down and they would find us beds. We offered our assistance to the crew and then we went and bought pizzas to feed ourselves and the crew. Cell and internet reception was almost cut to nil as thick smoke enveloped the area so we decided it was pointless to try and email people to cancel the 2nd day, and we would just wait and see who showed up.
Woke on Sunday to the air thick, choking with smoke, and ash drifting in the air like a light snow. About 15 people showed up (all expecting the in-tower training to be cancelled). From 1330 (Saturday) until 0800 the next morning the fire had grown to 20,000 acres, needless to say our in-tower training for September 13th was cancelled. In an attempt not to lose the momentum, we developed a new plan for in-tower training. One of the new volunteers (Randal Grindle), has over 25 years’ experience as a fire Lookout, eight of those years were at the Konocti Tower, and volunteered to do all of the in-tower training using FFLA’s current manuals & procedures.
Financial: A total of $1,712.50 was collected for National & Chapter dues and misc. uniform items. Current year-end balance is $398.04.
A website & Facebook page has been established, but still in the infancy stage, but continues to be updated as new data is discovered. (www.ffla-ccwr.org) Please review and advise if updates or additions are needed or if you have data that would be applicable.
Additional plans & challenges for 2016:
- Additional meetings are scheduled for January and February 2016 with the Santa Clara Ranger Unit to prepare for staffing Copermicus and Mt Oso Towers.
- Advertise for additional perspective volunteers for the 2016 fire season.
- Set-up training classes for new volunteers.
- Fundraising to cover cost of replacing floor in Konocti Tower and other maintenance items.
- Establish field trips and other activities for group unity.
- Add additional towers to the NHLR list.
- Mendocino N/F has 26 towers, Cal Fire owns four and the Forest Service owned nineteen of which twelve have been destroyed. Four are on the NHLR and only three are currently being staffed.
- My research of CA-Pacific Tower is on-going, but due to lack of internet data it is my opinion that many of these towers have been removed or destroyed. The search is not over.
- Establish a date in March or April for Training of the New Volunteers (actual date to be determined).
The Central California Western Region (FFLA-CCWR) was organized in 2015 as a nonprofit volunteer organization dedicated to restoring, maintaining and staffing historic fire lookouts in California’s Central Western Counties.
Director, FFLA CA-Pacific Chapter