ARES-RACES Volunteers Conclude Rim Fire Activation
Amateur Radio volunteers supporting the Red Cross and local government in the wake of the gigantic Rim Fire, in and near California’s Yosemite National Park and the Stanislaus National Forest, have stood down after 16 days on duty. The initial callout on August 19 responded to a request to assist the Red Cross in setting up an evacuation center in Groveland, California. Shelter operations relocated the following day to the Tuolumne County Fairgrounds in Sonora, Tuolumne County ARES Emergency Coordinator Carl Croci, NI6Z, reported. Also on August 20, the Tuolumne County Office of Emergency Services requested Amateur Radio assistance to staff the Sonora Red Cross shelter and the community information telephone system at the Tuolumne County emergency operations center. Croci and Tuolumne County RACES Radio Officer Phil Fish, WB6GGY, handled the callout and soon had volunteers for both locations as well as some on standby. On September 4, Croci announced the end of the ARES-RACES activation.
“This morning, I learned the Rim Fire was considered 80 percent contained,” he said. “The community information phones have been secured. All evacuations have been lifted, the Red Cross is dismantling the shelter, and we ham radio operators are trying to get our stations back in working order.” At one point the Tuolumne County Fairgrounds was sheltering some 100 evacuees.
Croci said that in the Groveland area, where he lives, residents are still dealing with morning smoke, which he anticipates will remain for a while. “Estimates are the fire will not be considered out until the first rain or snow,” he added.
More than two dozen radio amateurs were involved in the Rim Fire callout. Croci said the US Forest Service Type One Team told him that the combined operation conducted by Tuolumne County OES, ARES-RACES, the Tuolumne chapter of the Red Cross and the cooperation of the people of Tuolumne County will serve as an example for future operations.”
Croci expressed his thanks to all volunteers, and cited Fish “for his extraordinary operation and scheduling of personnel during the Rim Fire and Barbara Fish, KE6RGP, for leading the PIO operation.” Volunteers from Calaveras County ARES also participated in the activation.
To the south, Fresno County ARES assisted the Central Valley Red Cross with communications, relaying information from a shelter to the Red Cross headquarters in Fresno. For a time Mariposa County ARES staffed a shelter at Greeley Hills Community Center, ready to pass traffic to Red Cross Headquarters. ARRL San Joaquin Valley Section Manager Dan Pruitt, AE6SX, said volunteers set up August 26 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 that activation.
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.
As of September 4, the Rim Fire had claimed nearly 236,000 acres and more than 100 structures, including a few homes. The cost to date of battling the fire was estimated at more than $77 million.