Crews map plans for attack |

Crews map plans for attack

When the Yuba River Complex fire grew beyond the capability of local fire personnel, it didn’t take long for a state team to set up what looks like a military base at the Nevada County Fairgrounds.

In 24 hours, a tent city with a medical unit, kitchen and showers sprung from the ground. Crews from 15 federal, state and local agencies from all over California and Alaska busily set up temporary high-tech command stations inside fairground buildings.

“It’s like the main, central hub of the operation. It’s where information comes in and gets disseminated,” said Jorge Martinez, Southern California incident supply unit leader and a fire captain at the Burbank Fire Department.

Martinez is responsible for directing young men and women from the California Conservation Corps who have been sent to help out at the forested headquarters.

“It’s based off of military logistics principals,” said Matt Corelli, public information officer for the Southern California Interagency Incident Management Team. “We can pull engines from anywhere in California. As the size is growing, more resources are pulled in.”

But now, resources are tight as firefighters attempt to tame numerous fires burning across California. Last weekend, nearly 8,000 lightning strikes sparked 800 fires in the northern half of the state. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has called in the National Guard to help fight them.

When lightning struck the Tahoe National Forest 92 times, local forest personnel were the first to respond. As fires near Washington, Bowman Road, Cal-Ida, Graniteville and the American River Canyon burned beyond the forest’s control, blanketing communities with thick clouds of smoke, the state management team was called in.

So far, crews numbering 259 personnel have come from Kern, Ventura, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Bernadino and San Luis Obispo counties to fight the blazes burning in the Tahoe National Forest.

Bob Schober, of the Alaska Fire Service’s Midnight Suns Hotshot crew, flew in from Alaska to map by foot the 25 Fire near Cal-Ida because smoke has grounded air surveillance.

Experts in mapping, air attack, fire behavior and logistics study what they know about the fire from their computers and plan the safest routes for firefighters on the ground.

The base is ready for 500 people, but could grow to hold 1,000 to 2,000 if needed, Corelli said.

“If conditions worsen, we can also step up. It’s an upward movement of management of resources,” Corelli said.

With California in a drought year and still months to go before fire season reaches an end, crews are expected to remain in high gear.

“Last year was a busy year,” Corelli said. “I don’t think things are going to change. There’s still a lot of potential.”

To contact Staff Writer Laura Brown, e-mail or call 477-4231.

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