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ARES-RACES Volunteers Remain on Duty for Rim Fire Response

08/30/2013

ARES-RACES volunteers in Central California now have been on duty for more than 10 days as part of the response to the gigantic Rim Fire in and near Yosemite National Park and the Stanislaus National Forest. The initial callout on August 19 responded to a request to assist the Red Cross in setting up an evacuation center at Tioga High School in Groveland, California, for residents leaving the fire zone from Buck Meadows in Mariposa County, said Tuolumne County ARES Emergency Coordinator Carl Croci, NI6Z. He and Grayson, KE6KYI, met Red Cross volunteers and evacuees at the school and established communication with the Red Cross office in Sonora, where ARES has a VHF station. The next day, shelter operations were secured and relocated to the Tuolumne County Fairgrounds in Sonora.

 In Harm’s Way

In the meantime, Croci and his wife Melissia, KD6FFX, who live in Groveland, found themselves on a stand-by advisory evacuation notice. “We started making preparations to leave our home,” he said, “gathering up important documents, photos and other irreplaceable items.” By August 22, the smoke generated by the fire was more than the couple could take, so they packed up their two cats and headed to Sonora — some 20 miles to the northwest — where they took shelter with Paul, WA7AWC, and his wife Dean, KG6GBZ. They remained there until August 25.

Several Hats

Also on August 20, the Tuolumne County Office of Emergency Services requested Amateur Radio assistance to staff the Red Cross shelter at the Fairgrounds in Sonora and to the community information telephone system at the Tuolumne County emergency operations center. Groci and Tuolumne County RACES Officer Phil Fish, WB6GGY, handled the callout and soon had volunteers for both locations as well as some on standby.

“Here in Tuolumne County,” Croci explained, “the Amateur Radio community wears several hats — ARES, RACES, VIP and CERT. If needed, we can respond and change affiliations as conditions change.”

Croci said volunteers from Calaveras County ARES also have been pitching in. “We are still staffing the Red Cross Shelter and the community information phone lines with four ARES/RACES operators on the phones and two in the shelters,” he said at mid-week. The Red Cross was sheltering approximately 100 evacuees. Eight radio amateurs have been staffing the shelter, while another 12 handle the community information telephones at the EOC.

Fish has described the fire terrain in Tuolumne and Mariposa counties as “very, very, very rugged.”

Fresno County ARES

To the south, Fresno County ARES was put on alert August 19 by the Central Valley Red Cross. “We were asked to relay information from their shelter,” said ARRL San Joaquin Valley Section Manager Dan Pruitt, AE6SX. “We had our volunteers operating from home, monitoring the Mariposa 146.745 repeater at Mt Bullion.” Mariposa County ARES staffed a shelter at Greeley Hills Community Center, ready to pass traffic to Red Cross Headquarters. “This continued for about 24 hours before the shelter shut down from a lack of clients,” Pruitt said.

A few days later, on August 25, ARES was reactivated, due to more evacuations and the need for a shelter. Volunteers set up the next day at the Red Cross office in Fresno, where they installed a station capable of operating on emergency power. “We made contact with Mariposa County ARES at the Greeley Hill shelter,” Pruitt said. “We passed traffic until we were asked to shut down for the night.” Volunteers returned early the next day. They dismantled the station on August 27. Pruitt said eight volunteers turned out for the activation.

Digital Impresses

During the activation, Fresno County ARES used Fldigi and Flmsg — a forms management editor — on PSK125 to pass traffic from the shelter and the Red Cross Headquarters. “We found that the faster speed and wider signal [resulted in] fewer errors.” Pruitt said, adding that the Red Cross “was very impressed” with their ability to send and receive traffic in the Incident Command System general message form (ICS-213), filled out and printed.

Still a Threat

According to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), the Rim Fire as of August 29 covers nearly 200,000 acres, with almost 7000 acres burned over in the past 24 hours. The Rim Fire, 32 percent contained, has now has claimed more than 110 structures — including a few houses — and the cost of fighting it is approaching $50 million. The communities of Tuolumne City, Twain Harte, Long Barn, Pinecrest and the Hetch-Hetchy watershed are threatened, as are power lines in the region. Evacuations and road and area closures are in effect. The Rim Fire is not expected to be fully contained for another 10 days or so.

A series of time-lapse images has been posted that offer a perspective of the Rim Fire's rapid growth.



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