Behind the Scenes at California’s Wildfires

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This has been both a tragic and fascinating week in California with the amount of wildfires burning throughout the state. I’ve been visiting several of the major fires and working behind the scenes with my agency. As I write this I’m on a plane enroute to the Station Fire burning in the hills and canyons north east of Los Angeles where the latest numbers tell the story: At least 62 homes have burned to the ground and 127,513 acres have burned. 10,000 homes remained threatened and hundreds of people have been evacuated since it began in the afternoon of August 26th. 2009_Wildfires_01Certainly one of the worst parts of this fire was the tragic loss of two firefighters who were killed in a rollover accident. They were working to protect their base camp from burning up as other crews were out on the fire line. My heart goes out to their families.

Resident Left Pets in Home as Fire Spreads

On Sunday, a fast-moving wildfire that burned only 343 acres in the foothills east of Sacramento caught everyone by surprise. Investigators say the “49 Fire” appears to have started at a power pole off Highway 49 in Auburn, California and was fanned by 25 mile per hour winds. Before they could get a handle on it, the fire ripped through several neighborhoods, destroying homes in its path. A total of 63 homes were leveled and more were damaged. I was there when Governor Schwarzenegger toured the devastation as broken water lines continued to trickle and smoldering ashes were still hot. Although nobody was seriously hurt in this fire, I was especially pained when I heard the story of a resident who fled his home leaving his five dogs inside to burn alive. There couldn’t be a better example of the need to have a family plan before a disaster strikes. There once was a time when local shelters opened for people, not pets. This caused a big problem because people wouldn’t leave without their pets (I know I wouldn’t). Today, there’s a big focus on making sure there are also adequate shelters set up for animals. That’s a big personal focus of mine as I have three small dogs that I absolutely adore and could never leave behind.

2009_Wildfires_20Public Information is Critical

The public information officers from the various agencies – local police, fire and sheriff’s department, Cal FIRE, US Forest Service, the California Emergency Management Agency and others have been very busy. Each press conference I’ve been at with the Governor has had 20+ cameras and dozens of reporters in attendance. The behind-the-scenes coordination and tabulation of damage amounts and resources committed to each incident is a huge task. Our agency works closely with local government and other state agencies to provide a comprehensive report to the Governor. Each press conference is carefully vetted to be sure we all have the same information and that important messages are at the top of the list – including pleas to evacuate and what public safety agencies are doing to fight the fires. This is no minor undertaking.

I’ve been taking pictures and some video of the behind the scenes and hope to be able to upload it here for you to see what happens outside of the view of the press conference video. It’s impressive and reassuring. There are a lot of hard working public information officers putting in countless hours to make sure the public gets as much information as possible. It’s through their hard work that the public is able to make informed decisions to save lives. Keep an eye on ProCommunicator.com as I will share my experiences so you can use it to prepare for a crisis in your own back yard.

Kelly’s Photos from Behind the Scenes

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