SPFD Engine 81 deployed to Rim Fire, back home safe with new fuel pump
By Peggy Kelly
Santa Paula News
Published: September 06, 2013
By Peggy Kelly
Santa Paula Times
Santa Paula Fire Engine 81 was among a statewide response to the Rim Fire, and now the crew and the engine are back at the station after spending several days offering structure protection during one of the largest blazes in California history. And the engine has a brand new fuel pump.
The stubborn Rim Fire is now about 70 percent contained, Santa Paula Fire Chief Rick Araiza said Tuesday. With rain and cooler temperatures in the forecast, firefighters who have toiled tirelessly for days will likely make further gains in the coming days although fire officials don’t expect full containment of the Rim Fire until September 20.
The Rim Fire started August 17 and burned through more than 235,000 acres, making it the fifth-largest wildfire in California history. The state has spent more than $39 million to date on the firefight, which has consumed tens of thousands of acres inside Yosemite National Park. The Rim Fire has so far had little or no direct impact on Yosemite Valley, a popular spot for tourists and home to many of the park’s iconic attractions.
Araiza said Engine 81 Captain Jerry Byrum, Engineer Matt Lindsey and Firefighter Travis Hines were dispatched to the Rim Fire August 23 as part of a “mixed strike team ... Our engine joined Oxnard Fire, Fillmore Fire, the Naval Base and Ventura City” in sending engines.
Araiza said Santa Paula Fire Engine 81 left the South 10th Street station at about 8:55 p.m. for a road trip that, considering the mode of transportation, probably took seven hours. Engine 81 was assigned to structure protection, duty they held until the fire moved deeper into the forest wild lands.
It was just about a full week before the engine company was demobilized on August 30, but Araiza said while on its way back to the base camp, “The engine broke down, a fuel pump went out.... the engine was towed to the base camp and a mechanic ordered then put in a new pump. The engine came back to Santa Paula on August 31.”
Araiza noted such major fire incident base camps are “all set up” to handle any emergency or need, with mechanics on hand, cooking and eating tents, mobile command staffing, etc. And the engines are checked periodically: “The mechanics make sure the engines are at 100 percent service; they give service warnings about wear and tear of the machines,” although some mechanical failures cannot be predicted.
“The fire is in the backcountry now,” and smaller units that offer better access are being used. “The bigger engines were released; they’re just pretty much using the smaller rigs now,” said Araiza.
Sending an engine out on mutual statewide aid is not unusual: “Deployments vary by season, I would guess two times a year, sometimes more, sometimes less. Last year I don’t think we had a response like that at all, but the year before or so we deployed an engine four times” to wildfires that plagued the state.
The Rim Fire is the second time this year that Santa Paula Fire joined a statewide response; the first time was for the Springs Fire. Santa Paula Fire is reimbursed for the cost of sending the engine companies to statewide incidents including to the Rim Fire.
Araiza said the fuel pump replacement work was free, but the department still had to pay for the part. “The pump was $4,000,” said Araiza. “They’re not cheap!”
Although the pump was expensive, the engine company didn’t have to pay for food or coffee while deployed. The communities of Confidence, Pine Lake and Sugar Pine were so grateful for the fire service response and assistance that many of the communities provided meals for the firefighters, and the town of Twain Harte even put together a Potluck and Barbecue for the entire division of 200 firefighters. Captain Byram said, “It was really nice to see the residents so thankful for our efforts. Overall it was a good experience, and,” he added, “our strike team did some really good work for those communities.”