Wednesday, April 16, 2014
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Fire base camp acts like mini-town

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U.S. FOREST SERVICE Situation Unit Leader Brian Ebert works at his computer in the Kyburz Incident Command Center at the El Dorado County Fairgrounds. Democrat photos by Pat Dollins

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From page A1 | July 26, 2013 | Leave Comment

For all the drama of the Kyburz Fire, those watching it only saw part of the story.

For behind it, out of sight and out of mind, were all the logistics that went into fighting the fire.

On July 12 those logistics were on display at the Kyburz Fire Incident Command Post that was temporarily set up on the El Dorado County Fairgrounds.

Operating much like a mini-town, the command post showed how much behind-the-scene work goes into subduing a major fire and how much manpower, supplies and planning goes into that effort.

In charge of all the logistics was the Northern California Interagency Management Team 2 (NCIMT), which took official control of the Kyburz fire on July 9 at 6 p.m. Up until then, the Kyburz fire, which was detected on Monday, July 8, was being fought by the U.S. Forest Service, Cal Fire and local fire companies.

Made up of a wide variety of staff from federal, state, county and local agencies, NCIMT teams are called upon to manage large wildland fires and address the most complicated safety, fiscal, planning, operational and logistical issues.

According to Michelle Puckett, public information officer for NCIMT, initially a command post was set up at Sly Park. But as the number of firefighters swelled to over 800 in addition to the 75 members of NCIMT, operations were moved to the fairgrounds.

The Marshall Building at the fairgrounds became the hub of the command post or “city hall.” Yet even on Friday, after the fire was officially contained, the room was still abuzz with NCIMT staff working on laptops, consulting maps and handling all the planning and paperwork needed to oversee cleanup operations and keep the remaining firefighters supplied with food, clothing, pay checks, medical care, shelter, equipment and anything else they needed.

Surrounding the building in grassy areas of the fairgrounds were pockets of tent cities where firefighters slept. Lined up in trailers elsewhere were portable showers, toilets and washing stations as well as truckloads of extra clothing, hoses, Gatorade, valves and nozzles.

With some fires, they also bring in sleep trailers and clothes washers. “We’re a home away from home,” said Puckett.

Meals took place in one of the largest buildings on the fairgrounds. Inside were row after row of chairs and tables with food served cafeteria style. Efficiently run, Puckett said they could serve 250 people in 15 minutes.

Keeping the firefighters well fed during a fire is a big priority since they often work 16 hours a day and need 4,000 to 5,000 calories a day. According to Puckett, food and supplies used daily by a 1,000 personnel firefighter crew include 750 pounds of meat, 100 gallons of coffee, 23,000 drinks (water, Gatorade, juice), 2,000 pints of milk, 950 breakfasts, 1,400 bag lunches, 1,000 dinners, 250 dozen eggs, 20,000 AA batteries, 250 MREs (Meals Ready to Eat), 2,000 pounds of ice, 600 rolls of toilet paper for 150 bathrooms, 300 plus loads of laundry per day, 25 hand washing stations, and 24-26 miles of fire hose inspected and rolled.

Fortunately the Kyburz fire crews were able to get a hot breakfast and dinner in addition to a packed lunch every day. With some fires, food has to be airlifted in and crews sleep on-line.

Constant planning, gathering information and strategizing was an ongoing operation for NCIMT throughout the fire. To keep up to date on what was happening, different areas of the fairgrounds were set up for meetings. One area was used to hold planning meetings twice a day for the incident commander and staff. The other was an area for briefings that were held once or twice a day, usually at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. After the fire was put out, they also did an action review that included examining what went well and what could have been done better.

Tim Fike, liaison officer for NCIMT, said their plan of attack required dividing the area around the fire into separate districts with different crews assigned to each. After a fire break was created using air tankers, hoses, bulldozers and other equipment, the crews moved in systematically from all directions to surround and snuff out the fire.

He said regular updates on their operations were published on a Website called Inciweb.org. The Website also provides ongoing information on other fires around the country including maps, road closures, and photographs.

Covering a total of 572 acres, Fike said the fire was caused by a flat tire on a trailer that caught fire on Highway 50. However, the fire continues to be investigated.

By Thursday evening, the fire had been contained and the mop up operations were under way, including checking for smoldering logs and taking measures to control erosion.

“Other agencies were incredible in catching the fire in the first 24 hours,” said Fike. “They did an amazing job. Cal Fire, local fire agencies, the CHP, Sheriff’s Department, Caltrans and PG&E worked with us as well as Sierra Pacific Industries. The cooperation was amazing.”

By Saturday, the command post had been disbanded, the fire crews had left, and the mini-city created by NCIMT had vanished, only waiting to be resurrected once again at the next fire.

Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or dhodson@mtdemocrat.net. Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter

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