EMAIL FROM HMB COASTSIDE BATTALION CHIEF DAVID COSGRAVE.
Where do I start? Maybe with “I hope you understand why there was no newsletter last week, as we did not have time to write it and doubt you had time to read it.” There are some moments when I feel that 2020 will be one of those events in history that you just do not talk about… but then I see the resilience of the community and need to share the positive response and efforts with the community at large!
Most of us woke up to thunder and lighting early Sunday August 16th. Most of you spent the day passing photos and stories of the light show. First responders throughout the state started tracking down and trying to extinguish fires started from the lightning strikes. San Mateo County had fire starts in the hills above Woodside, the upper areas of the Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve and down the Portola Redwoods along with other State Parks on the South Coast. Responders fought their way to remote locations in steep terrain, cutting trails through the overgrown redwood forest extinguishing fires. But within 3 days the remote fire starts overwhelmed resources and we saw a massive expansion of the fires as they grew in size and merged together.
While we still have danger due to fire in the area, the weather and resources are letting us repopulate some evacuated areas. We feel for all those who have suffered and will be displaced for a long time to come. The fires have destroyed or damaged homes, utilities, bridges, and road structures. The area in the burn zones have hazardous trees and deep-seated fires in the ground that can pop up in unburned fuel and start burning again. Root structures that have held rock-sides in place for over one hundred years may have burned causing additional hazards. This winter will probably bring slides and debris flow.
We will describe the actions all of you volunteers took to help your neighbors in a bit. First I want to recognize the actions that Kings Mountain Volunteer Fire Brigade, La Honda Volunteer Fire Brigade, and the Loma Mar Volunteers took to protect their communities and ours. Had the fire reached State Route 84, many of us would be without cell phone and internet service for an extended period of time. The San Mateo County Parks Department, the Mid Peninsula Open Space District and the Coastside Volunteer Department were all active and contributed to the cause.
We owe a great thank you to our super power…. the FOG! Having wet ground for 4 days has been a blessing and combined with low winds blowing the smoke away from us has been a huge help to the firefight and our air quality.… until Friday morning when we were dryer and got a large dose of the drift smoke that the rest of the bay area has been having regularly.
We undoubtedly will be seeing stories of residents in the fire area that took the time and put forth the effort to use fire resistant building materials and maintain defensible space around their house. The objective is to have your home be able to survive a fire that passes by without anyone there to defend it – some in these current fires have done this successfully…
Maybe this link will reach some who will do more than just read it:
If you work on your vegetation clearance, it is critical that your methods do not produce sparks or heat sources that could start new fires.
On Wednesday, August 19, CERTs activated for the second time in recent weeks (the first was to assist with the ongoing COVID testing in HMB) in response to a request for mutual aid from La Honda CERT Branch 3 and 4. Their six CERTs had been working around the clock since Saturday at La Honda Fire Station 57 and needed relief. The job was to work alongside local Ham operators to answer phone and walk-in inquiries from local residents. The questions our Coastside CERT volunteers handled at the La Honda Fire Station were from residents who wanted to know how close the fires were to their homes, the best route out, and when they should leave. Many were evacuating pets and livestock on their own or requesting assistance. Our volunteers worked hand in glove with Ham radio operators from the South County 4 Amateur Radio Club (SC4ARC) and their subset, South County Amateur Radio Emergency Services (SCARES), which provides emergency communications services during disasters for the South Coast of San Mateo County. Coastside CERTs assisted La Honda CERTs and a fearless group of volunteers from the SMC Large Animal Evacuation Group (LAEG) with mad trailering skills who evacuated hundreds if not thousands of animals out of harm’s way under often difficult conditions.
When La Honda and Pescadero received evacuation orders late in the day on August 20, our volunteers had to return north of the Sheriff’s roadblocks. The following morning Coastside CERT ‘stood up’ a (Fire) Department Operating Center (DOC) at Coastside Fire Station 40 in Half Moon Bay. The mission was to provide a place for the La Honda team to operate if fire threatened Station 57, to provide mutual aid and cross-trained personnel to other volunteer relief agencies – especially LAEG – and to serve as a wildfire information and referral source for Coastside residents from Tunitas Creek to Montara. The Coastside inquiries our team responded to were mostly about fire locations, the evacuation center at HMBHS, damage reports, road closures, resources for evacuation notification support if that came to pass, how to get ready to evacuate, small and large animal evacuation and rescue resources, and requests to dispatch CERTs and Hams as mutual aid. Toward the end of our watch, we experienced the urgency of people intent upon re-entering still-evacated areas. CERTs/Hams were deployed to the LAEG staging area at Hwy 1 & Verde/Mryn Rd. just north of the Sheriff’s road blockade, to the Cow Palace in Daly City where many evacuated animals were sheltered, to the HMBHS evacuation center, and to Half Moon Bay Feed & Fuel, which was helping to coordinate LAEG efforts and provide feed and supplies to evacuees. Again CERTs worked in tandem with essential Ham radio operators from the Half Moon Bay Amateur Radio Club (HMBARC) and their subset ARES. Coastside CERTs and Hams staffed the DOC in shifts until Monday night, August 24, when the predicted second lightning storm and northerly wind shift did not materialize, the La Honda and Pescadero fire stations were secure, and the fire danger for our community had passed.
While providing service to the community, CERT team members learned many things from this whole experience that will help the program respond even stronger going forward. Most of all, we learned that our 250 trained Coastside CERTs and 100 licensed Ham members will stand up and turn out in force to volunteer when asked and perform effectively in their assignments. We had almost twice as many volunteers as we had shifts available even though there were many 12-hour, 4-hour, and 2-hour shifts during our five-day activation. Some of you came back day after day, going above and beyond expectations. Sometimes the action was intense and sometimes they also served who sat at their posts and waited, ready to respond. We learned more about what was needed and what was expected of CERTs and Hams in an emergency and strengthened our relationships with a broad cross-section of trained volunteers and professionals from many agencies. Undermanned and under-resourced in the face of multi-headed fire fronts in wild, steep, fuel-rich terrain, we witnessed the skill, bravery, strength, and sheer grit of our local firefighters and their reinforcements in the face of the second largest fire in state history. Beyond impressive, their actions saved lives and communities. They deserve our deepest respect and thanks as their hard job continues.
Thank you. All of you. Those who served, noted below, and those who wanted to but didn’t get the chance. You give real meaning to my twenty-one years of training CERTs. When your community needed you, you were ready and answered the call.
Thank You To: