San Francisco Section District Emergency Coordinator Len Gwinn, WA6KLK, in the Redwood Valley told ARRL this week that Amateur Radio volunteers in Mendocino and Lake counties have stood down, and things are “kind of back to normal, in that no emergency stations are being operated.” Gwinn, who spent more than 3 decades with Cal Fire and a few more years as a volunteer, said the sound of the wildfire in the Redwood Valley was remarkable.
“Never, ever had I heard a fire like this,” he told ARRL. “[T]he roar of the fire was something else from 2 miles away the first night,” he recounted. “Transformers and propane tanks going off like a war zone. Some shook my house!”
Gwinn said this week that skies are still smoky but clearing. Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman told him that hams were a saving grace in keeping hospitals and some other organizations linked when there was no other communication.
Gail Harris, KM6CEK, became an accidental volunteer after she was stuck in Ukiah by road closings. Armed with US Forest Service and incident radio experience, Harris ended up working in the emergency operations center at the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office until October 12. “It was awesome,” she said. “It was the reason I got involved with ham radio.”
Mary Jane Cummings, WA3VUI, of Covelo, took a night shift at Howard Memorial Hospital in Willits, monitoring the radio and handling messages for the hospital and the shelter at the local high school.
Gwinn thanked Greg Glavich, WA6RQX, in Ukiah, who manages a five-linked repeater complex for wide-area communication, and George Burton, K7WWA, in Willits, for his central repeater that also carried traffic.
San Francisco Section Manager Bill Hillendahl, KH6GJV, who briefly evacuated earlier this month when the Tubbs Fire got too close for comfort, told ARRL this week that the communications emergency has largely abated, with most cell sites now back up — at least with temporary equipment — and public safety systems working well.
“I am at home providing media and public safety updates on the air, but if the fire comes across the valley east of my place, I’ll be out the door again,” he told ARRL.
“Nearly 10,000 firefighters continue making progress on 13 large wildfires burning in the state that, combined, have burned over 210,000 acres,” Cal Fire reported mid-week. “While many evacuation orders have been lifted in Northern California, over 22,000 people remain out of their homes.” The death toll stands at 42.
Cal Fire said the Tubbs Fire affecting Sonoma and Napa counties has been 82% contained; the Nuns Fire between Santa Rosa and the city of Sonoma is 68% contained; the Atlas Fire — the single largest blaze which has engulfed more than 51,000 acres and left six dead — is 77% contained, and the Mendocino-Lake Complex Fire in the Redwood Valley is 60% contained. That blaze alone killed eight people. New fires have been reported in Alameda, Santa Cruz, Los Angeles, and San Diego counties. The largest is about 1,100 acres.