As the weather remains hot and dry, the March Fire Department is busy. They are providing structural protection and water tenders in a mutual aid agreement with California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, supporting three major fires within a three-week period; the Mountain, Falls and Silver Fires, all located in Riverside County.
“This fire season is bad. With little rain, hot and dry conditions, all it takes is a little static electricity to set off a fire, said Jeffrey Konersman, March Fire Department, fire chief.
The March Fire Department and several cooperating agencies from surrounding communities responded to the scenes to help control and contain the fires.
The first, the Mountain Fire, broke out July 15 and burned 27,531 acres and 23 structures near Idyllwild. For this fire, the March Fire Department assisted with an engine and a four-man crew, as part of a task force team.
Within days of the Mountain Fire being fully contained, March firefighters were called to help in another blaze, the Falls Fire, where 1,383 acres burned near Ortega Highway, west of Lake Elsinore.
They were assigned to a specific house in Lake Elsinore and were able to save it from the flames, said Lucas Walker, March Fire Department firefighter, who was part of the crew at the Falls Fire.
“I stood at the perimeter of the fire, hitting spot fires with water as embers flew into the property,” Walker said. “I also created a water curtain, a hose of water between the fire and the structure, keeping the fire from spreading and therefore, protecting the structure.”
The March Fire Department provides unique resources during the fire season to contain and control the fires, said Walker.
“We have one of two tankers in the county that has the capacity to provide 4,000 gallons of water; most can only hold 2,500 gallons,” he said. “We also have 4×4 engines that can go off ground, and manpower to facilitate equipment and materials to fight wild land fires.”
Within days of the first two fires, the Silver Fire raged. It began near Poppet Flats Road and Highway 243, south of Banning. Team March provided water tender support.
“A water tender serves as a water shuttle, bringing 4,000 gallons from the water source to the Type 3 fire engines, which are the wild land firefighter trucks,” said James Crow, engineer and captain of the water tender during the Silver Fire. “The Type 3 engines have more capabilities to go in rugged areas where there are no fire hydrants, so if we can get 4,000 gallons of water to them, that goes a long way.”
Specifically, they were the water supply to the initial response team, refilling the water supply as they ran out, providing 1,000 gallons each day, said James Russell, engineer at March Field Fire Department.
“One thousand gallons is not a lot of water for a large fire; however at this time the crews worked to set back-fires in order to contain the fire. Back fires are intentionally set to help contain the wild fire, so if the winds shift the fire doesn’t go back and spread to green areas,” said Russell.
The March firefighters and emergency response crews remained on scene at the Silver Fire overnight to extinguish spot fires and ensure scene safety.
“We put out numerous spot-fires and received a call to assist with a structural fire,” said Crow. “Most of the homes that were damaged were in Twin Pines Ranch where we resupplied CAL FIRE with water.”
Although they were not on the fire line at the Silver Fire, Russell said their role in providing water and supplies was vital.
Besides the crews on the ground, they were backed up by several water-dropping helicopters, a team of bulldozers carving out fire breaks to halt its progress and a DC-10, which made dropped fire retardant on the flames to smother them.
“The fires were contained in a complete air-to-ground attack; a coordinated effort between CAL FIRE, March and other surrounding cooperating agencies,” said Walker
The mutual aid agreement is working well, as shown in these instances where Team March firefighters are called to help off base. The agreement also allows for March to request help from their off-base counterparts if ever needed, said Crow.