Fast-moving CA fire threatens homes

Ventura County fire is the latest in string of damaging wildfires to hit state.

BY ZACHARY HOFFMAN | BALTIMORE | September 24, 2009



"Itís been a fast moving fire because of the light grassy fuels. The same area burned in Ď03 and Ď05"

—Tom Kruschke, Ventura County Fire Department


Nearly 100 homes and commercial buildings remain threatened from the Guiberson Fire in Ventura County, California, after dreaded Santa Ana winds spread the blaze across 25 square miles in two days.

Tom Kruschke, Information Officer with the Ventura County Fire Department, said, “It’s been a fast moving fire because of the light grassy fuels. The same area burned in ‘03 and ‘05, so the only fuels were the light flashy grass.

“The winds, triple digit temperatures and single digit humidity made for a fast moving fire,” Kruschke said.

Concentrated efforts of firefighters on the ground and in the air have been very successful in containing the fire and, with the inaccessible terrain that most of the fire falls on it was necessary to have a hard air attack from the beginning.

The city of Moorpark was most threatened by the fire, but winds have shifted or died out in some cases and the threat is more to the scattered rural houses instead of concentrated populations.

“The problem is that we have scattered oil field installations throughout the area,” said Kruschke. There are also five major power lines that transverse the area, two of which have been damaged, and above ground piping that is also threatened.

In Riverside County, CA, another wildfire outbreak destroyed 12 buildings and caused the forced evacuation of residents along Highway 79 Saturday, according to County Fire Captain Fernando Herrera.

The mandatory evacuation there has since been lifted and the fire completely contained, but not before the 340-acre Vail fire caused damage to the Vail Lake area.

For Southern California, the high season for fires typically runs through December, and by January there is enough rain to signify the end of fire season, or at least the low portion of the season.

“Most fire experts say you need three to four inches of rain before you end the fire season,” said Dace Gomberg, Fire Weather Meteorologist for the National Weather Service (NWS) in Los Angeles, CA. “Some years it seems to be an ongoing thing throughout the whole year.”

The 2007 fire season lasted the majority of the calendar year and caused widespread damage all across the southern portion of California.

“We only had one month of low season that year,” Gomberg said. Disaster response organizations are still responding to help those impacted by the fires that year.

Mennonite Disaster Services (MDS) is traveling to Ramona, CA, soon to repair and rebuild two years after those devastating wildfires in 2007.

Other faith-based organizations have also performed recovery work in Southern California from the 2007 fires. The United Church of Christ (UCC), Church World Service (CWS), Church Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC), Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) and many others have had groups there in the past year.

This year, the Station fire in Los Angeles County has already consumed more than 160,000 acres of vegetation, destroyed countless buildings and claimed the lives of two firefighters. The fire continues to burn just 1.5 miles north of the US Forestry Service’s (USFS) Crest Station in Los Angeles National Forest, but for now it is 94 percent contained.

The trouble with wildfires is not limited to California; at the border of Idaho and Montana three small fires continue to burn near Elk Summit Camp Ground. There are currently no restrictions to the public, but one of the fires is within a quarter mile of a heavily used trail.

“They’ve been pretty quiet since we had some precipitation Sunday,” said Mark Wilson, Powell District Fire Manager for USFS in Idaho. “We are continuing to monitor them with aircrafts and lookouts as things dry out later this week.”


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