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Volunteer Shelter Duty Slots in Northern California Filled on the Fly “via RF”


The North Bay Amateur Radio Association’s (NBARA) Gary Gross, KE6QR, recruited Amateur Radio volunteers on October 13 to support the shelters housing those evacuating because of the Napa Valley Fires. Gross, an ARRL Official Relay Station (ORS) in the East Bay Section, said the specific need was for back-up communication between the Crossroad Shelter in Napa, the Napa Community College Shelter, and the American Canyon High School over the weekend, 9 AM until 6 PM each day.

“As soon as I finished copying the request for help, volunteers immediately started calling me, offering their services over the repeater,” Gross said in an update. “Now that’s what I call real volunteerism; all positions were filled over the repeater via RF.”

Gross said he received the request as relayed from Mary Tabbert, KM6JCP, over the K6LI 442.425 repeater in Vallejo. The Napa 441.800 repeater has been knocked off the air because of the fire.

Ed Brown, KK6WAB, worked two 9-hour shifts at Crossroads Shelter, utilizing a cross-band repeater in his pick-up truck, so that he could operate using a hand-held in the building to reach the K6LI repeater.

Gross and his wife Jennifer, KI6ARW, split a 9 hour Saturday shift at the Napa Community College shelter, while Chris Jones, KD7TQO, took a 9-hour shift at the same shelter the next day. An additional cross-band repeater was put into service at the Community College shelter to enable the use of HTs inside the building. Jones, Brown, and Gross had spent several hours on Friday evening setting up the cross-band repeaters for use in the field.

Tabbert and Powell Helems, KK6YVV, covered communications at American Canyon High School over the weekend and have been volunteering at the shelter on a daily basis “and late into the evening every day since the shelter opened,” Gross reported. Tabbert and Helems have been working in conjunction with American Canyon Community Emergency Radio Team (CERT), using the K6LI UHF repeater.

FEMA reports that “numerous large wildfires continue to burn across much of Northern California, causing continued and significant threat to life, property, and commerce in several counties.” Two hospitals were evacuated in Santa Rosa, and high-pressure gas lines, hydroelectric infrastructure, water supplies, and communication infrastructure has been threatened, damaged, or destroyed, as have the area’s vineyards. The agency said that eight cell towers are offline, and that six of them will be offline long-term due to extensive damage.

Meanwhile, San Francisco Section Manager Bill Hillendahl, KH6GJV, reported on over the weekend that fire had returned to eastern Santa Rosa, not too far from his house, which he’d already left once when flames from the Tubbs Fire got within two blocks of his house.

“I am at home providing media and public safety updates on the air, but if the fire comes across the valley east of my place, I’ll be out the door again,” he told ARRL. He said all utilities except gas have been restored.

“My home, at this point, appears to be safe,” he told ARRL, adding that he’s more concerned about his elderly mother’s home, in the area affected by the Oakmont Branch Fire — part of the Nuns Fire. “Her home is on the southern side of Highway 12, and the fire is on the north side of the highway,” he said. “Very close.” His mother is with relatives and out of danger.

Hillendahl said fires continue in the mountains of Northern California, “but the magnificent fire crews are getting a handle on it,” he added.

Hillendahl said the RACES/ACS net in Sonoma County remains active, although the Sonoma County Radio Amateurs’ (SCRA) FireWatch Net has stood down. “But many of us are monitoring, providing information and updates as needed,” he said.

He said the communications emergency has abated, with most cell site that had gone down now back up with temporary equipment, and public safety systems “have been rock solid,” he added.

“We are hanging in there, but not out of the woods,” Hillendahl said.



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