Photo: YubaNet

NEVADA CITY, Calif. July 26, 2017 – The Cascade Shores neighborhood was the scene of a Wildland Urban Interface/Intermix drill yesterday. Some thirty firefighters from CAL FIRE’s Nevada-Yuba-Placer Unit, Grass Valley and Consolidated Fire participated in the training. Kicking off the morning’s briefing, Battalion Chief Matt Wallen delivered a stark reminder to the firefighters about the dangers they will face. Video clips of the 2013 Yarnell Hill fire, where seventeen Granite Mountain Hotshots died, highlighted the danger of fighting fire in the WUI – for the firefighters and the communities.

Wallen told the firefighters this type of training will help them get accustomed to fighting a fast-moving fire in a typical setting for the area. Homes interspersed with high fuel loads, steep terrain and roads that may or may not be clogged with residents trying to escape. Training is a crucial part of firefighting, Wallen said. “I will never fault you if your paperwork is a little late because you were holding a legitimate training,” he stated, addressing the heads of the engine companies. Mentoring younger firefighters is a longstanding tradition in the fire service.

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The exercise was designed to teach ‘bump and run’ technique – Firefighters are assigned to a home and have to report on conditions. Is there defensible space, a water source, are there residents and/or animals present? They then start defending the home (if possible), lay hoselines and scout for possible actions they can take quickly before moving on to the next house.

Wallen recapped a few of the guidelines for the firefighters, “park in a clear space, check for power lines or trees overhead – we are having more trees come down in the past few years than ever before due to beetle kill. They are a lot more susceptible to catastrophic failure than ever before.” Communications, signaling, sheltering in place if a fire overruns their position were also addressed.

“If you don’t sweat by the second or third home, you are not doing it right. This will get your adrenaline going – get it out of your system now so that when the real deal happens you will know what to do.” With that, Wallen started the drill, assigning each engine to an address and off they went.

“Home has no defensible space, fuels are coming up right to the house – we can’t defend this one,” the first radio report from an engine came in. “On scene, driveway is clear and wide, good defensible space around the home, two occupants getting ready to leave now.” As each engine reported on conditions, rotating through all the homes picked, Wallen continued to assign the resources and talk with the captains on the engines. Conditions for each home differed widely, from aggressive dogs, residents refusing to leave, to well-prepared houses with enough clearance to give firefighters the opportunity to safely defend the home.

Some of the homeowners were present when the firefighters showed up. They were notified ahead of time and played their part. “I’m so happy they do this here, we want them to know the neighborhood,” said one of them. Others just watched one engine after another pull up, scout the area, fill out a WUI card and start dragging fire hoses, then backhauling the equipment and moving on to the next address.

The homes were picked by Joan Hardy, a Cascade Shores Firewise Community leader. The Firewise Community was out in force, wearing their “Are You Fire Safe?” t-shirts and letting residents know about the drill. The Fire Safe Council of Nevada County and the Cascade Shores Firewise Community organized a BBQ for the firefighters at the end of the exercise.

In the news release announcing the event, Hardy said, “We’re happy to host this exercise to help educate our community in how best to prepare their home for wildfire. It’s our duty to create a defensible space so the firefighters may provide an effective offense in a safe environment. I was evacuated during the 2015 Lowell Fire and knew I had done everything I could to help my home survive without any fire suppression resources.”

Firefighters returned to their respective units after the drill and a short time later some of the same engines responded to the Piper Fire at the old Nevada City Airport.