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Santa Cruz Hams Provide Support During Wildfires

08/19/2009

As wildfires threaten the central California coast near Santa Cruz -- located between San Jose and Monterey -- area radio amateurs have been providing support to law enforcement and fire authorities. According to Santa Cruz County Public Information Officer Bill Conklin, AF6OH, the Santa Cruz County Emergency Operations Center requested support from ARES® on Wednesday, August 12: "We activated and established an informal Net to provide fire support resources." Just two days later, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a State of Emergency for Santa Cruz County.

On Thursday, three amateurs staffed the County's Emergency Operations Center for the ARES® Net, beginning at 5 AM and going for 16 hours. Monterey County ARES District Emergency Coordinator Dave Burbidge, W6IIQ, also helped to provide coverage.

"Once we were activated, about 30 amateurs signed in to a Resource Net on a local repeater managed by Bob Wolbert, K6XX," Conklin said. "These hams were assigned various duties, including providing support for animal rescue operations. Some were assigned to specific locations in order to support law enforcement and fire authorities. The Santa Cruz Chapter of the American Red Cross initiated staffing and evacuation centers on Wednesday night, and we deployed the ARES® Step-Van to support a shelter in Davenport, about 15 miles north of Santa Cruz on Highway 1. Due to the low volume of shelter clients, these facilities did not require further staffing by local ARES® team members."

Officials declared a mandatory evacuation in the affected area on Thursday, namely for the towns of Swanton and Bonny Doon; an estimated 2500 people were evacuated from their homes. On Sunday, officials allowed residents from Bonny Doon who had been evacuated to return to their homes, but warned them to be on a state of alert and to be ready to move as needed.

Dubbed the Lockheed Fire, the blaze was 65 percent contained on Monday, August 17. More than 7000 acres are affected by the blaze; the cause of the fire is under investigation. Approximately 2000 firefighters -- equipped with almost 300 fire engines, 14 helicopters, 30 bulldozers, six air tankers and 21 water tenders -- were trying to get the fires under control this past weekend. To date, no homes have been destroyed by the fire, but two outbuildings were burned to the ground and more than 50 homes and businesses are threatened.

Conklin said that during the initial response to the fire, the Santa Cruz County Equine Rescue Team was activated, providing large animal rescue support. "In the past year, many members of the team received their Amateur Radio," he explained. "They were instrumental in organizing and rescuing horses, llamas, alpacas, goats, sheep, chickens and ducks, as well as arranging transport for 100 head of cattle. Working in conjunction with County of Santa Cruz County Animal Services, they were able to transport and relocate the animals to safety at two sites within the county."

Volunteers staged an equine and large animal rescue at the cement plant in Davenport. A shelter for smaller animals was established at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds in Watsonville, about 15 miles south of the City of Santa Cruz.

The weather continues to be a major concern, as do the steep terrain and limited access to the fire's perimeter, Conklin said" "Conditions continue to be very fluid and may change quickly based on weather factors. Firefighters will continue to construct fire line around the perimeter of the fire." Governor Schwarzenegger visited the Fire Operations Center in Watsonville and thanked all of the firefighters for their assistance.

"Once again, Amateur Radio and ARES® proved to be an essential resource in times of emergency," Conklin said. "The citizens of Santa Cruz County are fortunate to have this trained, technical resource available to provide these essential communications resources."



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