VAFB Hot Shots crew helps battle blaze
By Airman 1st Class Erica Stewart, 30th Space Wing Public Affairs
/ Published October 16, 2006
VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- After spending almost a month trying to contain the fifth largest California wild-fire in history, The Vandenberg Hot Shots crew returned home to Vandenberg on Sept. 30th.
At the month long fire's peak, about 4,800 firefighters from 39 states were on the lines, according to officials. The blaze started Sept. 4 -- Labor Day - burned 162,700-acres and threatened several Ventura County communities as it worked its way across the Sespe Wilderness in the Los Padres National Forest.
The VAFB Hot Shots Crew went into the fire Sept. 8, almost 5 days after the fire started.
"We had to wait until then because it wasn't safe to send ground troops into the fire yet," said Traci Betty, a captain of the Vandenberg Hot Shots Crew.
Over that next weekend, the 18 member Vandenberg Hot Shots crew spent their time brushing contingency lines and taking fuel off the sides of pre-existing line.
"Monday we saw some awesome fire behavior due to terrain and weather," said Ms. Betty. The fire shot over large hills, rippling through the forest and even jumped over a highway, she said.
"We witnessed a lot of fire whirls," said Eric Garcia, a Vandenberg Hot Shots Crew member.
A fire whirl is a phenomenon in which a fire, under certain conditions acquires a vertical vorticity and forms a whirl, or a tornado-like effect. Fire whirls are basically 'fire tornadoes', Mr. Garcia said.
Fire whirls are spawned from wildfires and they come to be what they are when a warm updraft from the wildfire is present.
With dry weather, the danger that the fire presented to surrounding structures was crucial, said Ms. Betty. Hundreds of people in Ojai, Lockwood Valley, Pine Mountain Club and other foothill communities were forced to evacuate their homes and move animals, sometimes twice.
"We were sent in to do a little structural triage," Ms. Betty said. It's important for people to remember to do their part as far as making sure there is clearance around their home in order to save it, she said.
Even with the alarming severity of fires like the Day Fire, it is important for people to remember that not all fires are bad.
"It was a good fire," Mr. Garcia said. "Fire can be a good thing for the wilderness, it burns old growth and allows new to grow in preventing dangerous wild fires like the Day Fire from happening."
Forest service officials say the Day Fire blaze, which cost just over $70 million to fight, was started by someone burning trash in a remote section of the forest. No one has been arrested.