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Wildfire Emergencies

What You Need to Know & Do to Be Prepared

By Theresa Drew, CERT

Co-Chair, Las Cumbres Disaster & Emergency Preparedness Committee

Emergency Operations Management Team Leader

As spring 2018 begins, draught predictions loom, so now is the time for each mountain property to prepare for the upcoming fire season. The 2017 Bear Fire, which threatened hundreds of homes in the South Skyline area and destroyed nearly 400 acres in the Bear Creek Canyon- Lost Valley area, taught us a lot about the value of creating defensible fire safe zones around our home and along roadsides. Equally important, it taught those of us who were evacuated the importance of being registered with emergency alert systems in the different counties that serve mountain communities. With the exception of our local fire fighters, those of us in the South Skyline area were not experienced or prepared for what to do when the call or door-knock to evacuate came without warning in the middle of the night.

Wildfire Evacuations are Different

Wildfire evacuations are ordered by CalFire and executed by the local sheriff’s department (Santa Cruz County Sheriff for the Bear Fire). This protocol is crucial for the safety of residents and responders because fire incidents are often immediate and life-threatening, as wine country residents experienced last fall, and South Skyline residents experienced with the Bear Fire. Firefighters want residents out of the way quickly, so they can focus on fighting the fire and easily move their equipment into and throughout the area.

Mountain residents are served by Santa Cruz, Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties Offices of Emergency Services depending upon where their property is located. This is important to understand BECAUSE:

  • Multiple, overlapping alert methods are used within each County;

  • Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, and San Mateo Counties use different alert systems.

  • No one system is perfect, or assures you will get an alert if the emergency is nearby, but you are not physically in the evacuation zone.

  • Most alert systems require registration and updating by residents.

  • You will not get an evacuation or emergency alert via Reverse911 automatically, if you do not have a landline. If you have multiple lines, check with your carrier to know which line is listed in their system for emergency alert calls.

Register Cell & VoiP Phones for Alerts NOW!

Residents and businesses with landlines are automatically enrolled in the Reverse911 system. However, none of the alert systems call cell phones or VoIP landlines UNLESS the phone owner registers their number(s) with the County’s system.

To Receive Emergency Calls if your Cell Phone is in Sleep or Do Not Disturb Mode:

Change settings to accept calls from the 911 emergency calling numbers:

  • For scr911, enter 866-419-5000.

  • For AlertSCC enter the County-wide number 408-808-7817; also enter city numbers for Saratoga 408-868-1280 and Los Gatos 408-808-7803.

  • Learn how to set up your Android or iPhone to “Receive Emergency Calls when Phone is on Silent,” from mountain resident Simon Long’s blog post http://bit.ly/ReceiveEmergencyCalls .

Type 1 helicopters and fixed-wing planes, bulldozers, and ground crews totaling as many as 1100, including all of South Skyline Fire & Rescue, fought the Bear Fire in 2017 at a cost of over $30 million.


2017 Bear Creek Canyon Fire
By Mark Haynie, SSFSC

October 17, 2017 a structure fire broke out on Bear Creek Canyon rd, (#BearFire) just outside the South Skyline FireSafe Council boundaries.  It threatened the Las Cumbres and other communities along southern Skyline Blvd.  Evacuations were ordered for roads along the canyon up through Las Cumbres.  CalFIRE responded to the fire that grew to 125ac overnight with aircraft as first light.  See the Fire Safety Links page for up-to-the-minute reports from CalFIRE CZU.

Fig. 2. Bear Creek Canyon Fire Evacuation Orders 2017-10-17


South Skyline FireSafe Council Projects
By Mark Haynie, SSFSC

See other resources (Projects, Fire Safety Links, Creating a Defensible Space) on this site for more information.  Fire can happen quickly, SSFSC projects help reduce fuel along our roads.

A South Skyline FireSafe Council sponsored project in the summer of 2014 cleared a Shaded Fuel Break along Skyline Blvd from the San Mateo county border (2 miles north of Highway 9) north to Rapley Ranch Rd (Fogerty Winery).  A fuel break cannot guarantee safe passage for residents and emergency vehicles during a fire, but it can increase the likelihood.  The project supervised by SSFSC volunteers and CalFIRE fire crews, CalTrans highway workers thinned trees of less than 6" in diameter and trimmed branches of others up to 8ft into trees.  It is shaded in that large trees are left fully intact so as not to detract from the rural feel and California Scenic Highway designation. 

SSFSC Skyline Blvd. Shaded Fuel Break Project 2014

2014 SSFSC Skyline Blvd Shaded Fuel Break Project

Ground cover such as coyote brush and Scotch broom were removed.  All debris was chipped and either scattered or trucked away (much of it used as mulch by local residents).  Crews spent 10 hrs per day, 4 days per week for two months except when CalFIRE crews were pulled away to respond to local fires.  One or two 12 member crews from the Ben Lomand CalFIRE Camp worked with SSFSC volunteers that provided direction and supervision.

Get involved with SSFSC to help protect the South Skyline area.

You can train to become a CalFIRE supervisor for follow-on projects in our area.  Contact SSFSC for more information.  If your area would like to put together a grant proposal to create a shaded fuel break in your area, again contact us at SSFSC. Sign up for the Free Chipping Days to support creating a defensible space around your home.


2015 Valley and Lake County Fires

Anderson Springs Neighborhood Before the Valley Fire

By Mark Haynie, SSFSC

The Valley Fire was a wildfire during the 2015 California wildfire season that started on September 12 in Lake County, California.[1] The fire started shortly after 1:00 pm near Cobb and by 6:30 PM had burned more than 10,000 acres (40 km2).[3] By Sunday, the fire had reached 50,000 acres and had destroyed much of Cobb, Middletown, Whispering Pines, and parts in the south end of Hidden Valley Lake.[4] The fire ultimately spread to 76,067 acres, killed four people and destroyed nearly 2,000 buildings.[1][5][6][7] At the time, the fire was the third-worst fire in California history, based on the total structures burned.

See what happens during a fire to the scene above.