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Ham Radio Volunteers Provide Support during Santa Cruz Fire

06/18/2008

Ham radio volunteers from Santa Cruz ARES provided a vital layer of communications to support firefighters, law enforcement, Red Cross and even animal control during the Martin fire in the hills above Santa Cruz over Father's Day weekend. As of Tuesday, June 17, the fire, which covered more than 500 acres, was completely contained. Four people were injured in the fire. Three homes were destroyed and another one was damaged, while eight outbuildings burned down. Santa Cruz, home to University of California, Santa Cruz, is a town of about 55,000 people located on the northern edge of Monterrey Bay.

During the blaze, ARRL Santa Clara Valley Section Public Information Coordinator Bill Moffitt, AE6GS, said the radios in the Santa Cruz County Emergency Operations Center were "crackling with traffic as hams across the area transferred information, made requests and made sure the various agencies -- from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) to the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's department -- were kept abreast of the progress in fighting the fire and the needs that arose in the area." Yet, Moffitt said, even with all this going on, "ARES volunteers remained completely professional, ensuring the accuracy and effectiveness of the flow of traffic."

"Our group got some valuable practice during the Summit fire a few weeks ago," said ARRL Santa Cruz County District Emergency Coordinator Cap Pennell, KE6AFE, who manned the radio room in the Santa Cruz EOC. "Our people were much more ready for this fire, and the quality of the response shows." The Summit fire burned more than 4200 acres in both Santa Cruz and Santa Clara Counties, destroying 31 homes and 63 outbuildings. Both the Martin and Summit fires remain under investigation.

Helping to evacuate people in the fire's path was an immediate priority, and the ARES teams facilitated communications between the various agencies who were notifying people about their evacuation status. But pets and livestock, including a multi-hundred pound pig, also needed to be moved from harm's way. That's when Santa Cruz County Animal Control organized volunteers from Equine Evacuation, a local animal evacuation organization, to help transport animals out of the fire zone. Several hams are also members of the group, and with their help, Equine Evacuation safely and efficiently removed more than 50 animals, including horses and other livestock, to safe locations.

"I slept about four hours last night," confessed Hap Bullard, KQ6YV, as he stood next to his ham radio-equipped pickup hooked up to his empty horse trailer at the staging area for the animal evacuation. Bullard is a ham radio operator who also serves with Equine Evacuation. "I'm here to ensure the animal control people can stay in touch with the Emergency Operations Center, but I'll be going to pick up horses if I'm needed," he said. -- ARRL Santa Clara Valley Section Public Information Coordinator Bill Moffitt, AE6GS



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