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May 29, 2009

California Budget Woes, Cal Fire Particulars To come

Reports from various sources hint that Cal Fire stands to lose $17 million from their budget due to the State being broke.

One source quotes the Governor declaring there will be a 5% pay cut across the board for state workers.

Other sources suggest Governor Schwarzenegger wants to eliminate the California Youth Authority, another consideration proposes closing down the state parks.

It seems to me the Cal Fire cuts will be seen in equipment attrition. I drove a 20 year old engine and an even older crew bus in my day so I see no harm in putting off purchases of shiny new model 5's and water tenders. Bulldozers age well generally and their tenders only need to get across the state a few times a year.

Cal Fire equipment is well maintained. I forget the schedules but as I recall we changed the oil on the apparatus every 1,500 miles. Safety equipment is inspected daily. A well maintained fire engine can last for decades so the dream of a new fire engine in the driveway of every station is over.

Where it will hurt is if the cuts begin to claim personnel.

Who is likely to be hurt first? At first no one in my opinion. The hiring has already been done for the 2009 fire season. At least for 2009 I don't see much pain.

2010 will be a different story. I expect some stations and possibly some camps will be closed. I can see the state offering early retirement to guys and gals within reach. I expect many of these positions will not be filled, possibly ever.

I cannot see air attack, fixed wing or rotary aircraft affected at all. Any attempt to save a buck or two by eliminating air support would be a mistake.

If I was the Governor I would draw on help from the President's gargantuan list of service corps or whatever his regime is calling it.

Tens of billions of dollars is appropriated for various volunteer programs funded through the Omnibus or Stimulus/Porkulus Bills, some have to do with conservation projects. Among the myriad of funded programs under the banner of the National Service.gov there has to be funds that can be used for essentials like fire suppression. Here is a list of funded projects for California through Americorps.

If there is money available and able body men and women who want a truly useful and rewarding job I say train them for fire crew assignment or incident base support. This is not unheard of, California Conservation Corps members, covered to some extent by Americorps already help.

The California budget pains cannot be avoided by California's elite firefighting force. The true pain may be deferred until next year but with a little imagination and smart lobbying the cuts can be minimized.

In the meantime a potentially brutal fire season is upon us.

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May 19, 2009

Police Services Consolidating, Preview To The Future Of California?

It's happening, from state level to municipalities police services are running out of money. Yesterday the USA Today reported on the phenomenon and cited some examples of affected communities including the Palm Springs area in California.

"In Southern California, Indio and its neighbors Palm Springs, Desert Hot Springs, Cathedral City and Beaumont have merged some key functions and also plan to combine dispatch operations to increase efficiency. "It's the legacy of the budget crunch," Indio's Capt. Richard Banasiak says..."

The steps taken in Palm Springs are logical. What is happening in the Coachella Valley can and should be widely instituted elsewhere in California and throughout the country, how can it not?

Today in California voters are set to reject the plate of tax initiatives on the ballet. I voted no and most people I know voted no.

Enough is enough is what voters are saying. Enough tricky schemes to raise our taxes, enough giving politicians more money to pad their pet services. Enough with pure entitlements. Enough with the taxes that are driving my family and friends from their home state.

The challenge is now on the Governor and his buds in Sacramento to actually make cuts.

He shouldn't wait for his share of the stimulus to bail us out. He should go ahead and make some cuts. It's unavoidable anyway. He's too far away from the end of his term, he can't punt, he has to pull out the pen and CUT.

It's now on Governor Schwarzenegger. Maybe he can be the leader we thought we were getting when we voted him in.


May 14, 2009

Thermo-Gel On The Job In Santa Barbara

Thermo-Gel was on the job in Santa Barbara last week. A homeowner protected his house from the advancing flames of the Jesusita Fire and left a note for firefighters indicating the home had been "gelled".

The images below were provided to me by the fine people at Thermo-Gel. Notice the sign on the porch entrance.

"This House Was Protected With Thermo-Gel"

The flames came right up to the home. This homeowner did many things right, tile roof, stucco siding and an application of gel. He gets a ding for allowing giant oak branches to hang over the house but overall he gets a high B for preparing a home for life in the wildland-urban interface.

Best of all no firefighter had to risk their life to save this home!

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New Threat to California Cuts, San Quentin Prison

Last week California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger threatened to cut firefighters from the state budget in a deliberate attempt to scare voters into accepting his package of initiatives coming to market May 19.

That didn't impress anyone so I guess selling San Quentin prison and the L.A. Coliseum and a few other odd holdings like the Cow Palace will?

The Santa Cruz Sentinel has a run down of the properties proposed for sale but not after looking at the list I say sell it all.

I toured San Quentin as part of a class field trip in college and my first thought as we approached the grounds was why do prisoners get to live on beachfront property?

San Quentin is situated on 450 acres on Point Quentin in Marin County. It's on the leeward side of the San Francisco Bay, sporting perfect weather all year long. Not too hot, never too cold.

Sell to developers and hold out for a pretty penny. We have a lot of cheap desert land in California featuring endless views of cactus and Joshua trees for incarcerated convicts.

I do think Arnold will be forced to lay the smack down on Cal Fire but I have a feeling it will not include any direct firings. Positions will likely be lost by attrition. Retirees will not be replaced by new hires. Seasonal firefighters will be affected to the extent that engine crews will sport one or two seasonal firefighters to assist the captain or engineer.

Three engine stations will become two, two engine stations become single engine stations.

Rural counties like Merced could see stations closings. Planada may have to contract with Merced City, Dos Palos with Los Banos. In time Cal Fire might become a seasonal firefighting force. Does California in the condition it's in can support a full time wildland firefighting force? I believe we do but some might argue we don't.

The state is contracted with numerous cities to provide fire service but the writing is on the wall, some of these contracts will have to be renegotiated.

My suggestion to some of these communities is to beef up your volunteer force, be ready to protect yourself.

You have to think a day of reckoning is coming to larger city departments as well. I look for stations to consolidate, head counts to drop. For a number of reasons there are fewer fires, fewer big fires. Cities will be forced to lean on volunteers more in years ahead.

The fire service in California is not a growth industry at the moment. From the looks of it it may not be for some time to come.

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May 09, 2009

Jesusita Fire Tankers Diverted From Closest Base

The Fresno Bee reports tankers assigned to the Jesusita Fire in Santa Barbara were forced to use the Porterville Air Attack Base for reloading instead of the much closer Santa Maria Airport.

The first tankers on scene Tuesday were able to reload one time in Santa Maria before being diverted to Porterville, double the distance from the fire ground.

Tankers were allowed to reload in Santa Maria Wednesday.

It would be difficult to calculate if this apparent bureaucratic snafu contributed to the severity of the blaze but the question should not have to be asked. Adding a full hour to the turn around time had to have some effect. The extra strain on pilots and ground crews waiting for their drops is immeasurable, though they would never complain.

Considering Santa Maria bisects the ever burning Los Padres National Forest it begs the question, why wasn't there a contract in place?

As it turns out last June Los Padres honchos stripped the Santa Maria Air Attack base from "full-time service" to standby or "call-when-needed" status in a budget draw down. According to The Santa Maria Times the decision to downgrade the status of Santa Maria was made by Pacific Southwest Region Forester Randy Moore and Los Padres Forest Supervisor Peggy Hernandez.

Los Padres National Forest officials who knew better warned that initial attack on local fires would be hampered. How right they were.

The Santa Maria Times reminds us that tankers flying from Santa Maria serviced the 2007 Zaca Fire and the Tea and Gap Fires more recently. During the Zaca Fire 1,700 drops were initiated from Santa Maria. 18 air tankers called the base home during the Zaca Fire.

Two positions were cut by Forest supervisors in the Santa Maria contract shake up. Those positions were not actually cut, but reassigned. All considered the cost of a couple of airport positions pales in comparison to the cost of potential life and property loss.

There may be positions within the fire service to cut but when it comes to rotary or fixed wing aircraft no expense should be spared. Ask the guys on the ground.

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May 08, 2009

Jesusita Fire Info, Satellite Images, Maps, Links

Updated Info at County of Santa Barbara.

Tanker 910 is on scene. KEYT reports here. Only fire officials can answer why the contract supertanker was not called in sooner.

NOAA Sat Animation


InciWeb is up and running with Jesusita Fire information here.

Current Situation

Total Personnel2,335
Size3,500 acres
Percent Contained10%
Fuels Involved

Chaparral (6 Feet)

Fire Behavior

Upslope runs through out the evening and early morning with 60 to 100 foot flame lengths on the upper third of the Santa Ynez Mountains. Crowning, spotting, and actively burning.

Significant Events

Increased fire activity last night caused additional evacuation in the San Roque area, Hwy 154 on the West side of the fire. Water drops were conducted throughout the night by three type II helicopters.


Planned Actions

Perimeter control, continue structure protection, engage fire where opportunities present themselves, continue line construction, mop-up and patrol structures.

Growth Potential


Terrain Difficulty



If the Red Flag conditions continue, control strategies will be challenged.

Current Weather

Wind Conditions20-45 g60 mph NE
Temperature98 degrees

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Thermo-Gel Protects Your Home From Fire

Thermo-Gel should be in the garage of every rural home. I could write about the product all day but the video below tells the story of this remarkable product. Watch and see for yourself how Thermo-Gel works. After you do click this link for facts about Thermo-Gel.

Firefighter Blog is proud to have Thermo-Gel as a sponsor


Santa Barbara Still Losing Homes

Homes are still burning in Santa Barbara as the Jesusita Fire spreads tentacles of flame through canyons and into neighborhoods. The Governor declared a state of emergency on earlier this week that allowed fire officials to order up all necessary resources, so what happened?

According to discussion on Wildland Fire more resources have been called overnight but many of these strike teams are due to arrive later today.

I am baffled as to why homes are still burning. Is it possible the fire management team was caught flatfooted or is it just too early in the season to gather appropriate resources for such a fire.

Sundowners always present unique problems and weather reports were inconsistent earlier in the week. It's not fair to criticize when you are not on the ground but it's easy to ask why more resources were not called in sooner.

Guaranteed every fire crew in the state was ready if called.

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May 06, 2009

Jesusita Fire Maps and Links

Images from Google Earth

Map from KCOY

Local Coverage KCOY.com
Search Twitter
Local Video

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Jesusitas Fire Taking Out Homes in Santa Barbara County

From a distance the Jesusitas Fire that began last evening looked fairly benign. Fire officials were "cautiously optimistic" this morning that firefighters would be able to lock this one down with minimum acreage and property loss.

Optimism was dashed late this afternoon as brisk offshore winds carried embers into adjoining neighborhoods resulting in numerous multi-million dollar family homes being burned to the ground.

Overhead camera shots from of the area of Tunnel Road and Mission Canyon Roads in Santa Barbara County show at least a dozen homes fully involved.

Terrain offers dense vegetation and steep slopes with homes occupying every ridge top. It's apparent defensible space ordinances are only a nuisance to many residents of this community.

Two firefighters have been injured according to NBC4 News in Los Angeles.

More at NBCLA.com

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May 05, 2009

Cal Gov. Schwarzenegger Threatens To Gut Cal Fire

In an attempt to drum up support for his confusing package of budget initiatives California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has threatened to eliminate 1,700 positions from Cal Fire. SFGate.com has the story.

According to the article the Governor wants to:

"...slashing $80.8 million from Cal Fire's spending plan - a 10 percent reduction - by eliminating 602 full-time positions and 1,100 seasonal firefighting positions. The cuts would be part of a series of deep cuts to the state budget.

Cal Fire, the state's fire agency, has about 5,000 full-time firefighters. At the peak of last year's fire season, more than 2,700 wild fires ravaged the state and the agency hired extra help: 3,000 seasonal firefighters.

The plan would also shutter 11 conservation camps and 20 single-engine stations throughout California.

Closing fire stations would affect response times and the agency's ability to make inspections on defensible spaces, according to the document...."

Who is he kidding? This is politics at its lowest. Why always tug at the fears of the electorate by scaring them into voting your way?

I'll be the first to admit there are some stations that could disappear and maybe some of the camps could close or consolidate. I drove a 20 year old engine for a time, we don't need a revamped fleet of Model 5's every 2 years. Surely the department can accommodate cuts here and there and they should expect cuts.

What I can't stand is these politicians plying on the fears of their constituents. It's cheap and ugly.

BTW I am voting NO!

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