When a wildfire happens, hundreds of people converge with lights and sirens to try to stop it, but more importantly, to save lives. These efforts are big, complicated and take a lot of skill and training to make sure all goes smoothly and efficiently.
On October 10, 2019, two wildfires started in Southern California, prompting a unified command with multiple agencies to help get everyone in the path of the fires evacuated safely. Resources were spread thin as units from Cal Fire, American Medical Response (AMR), Riverside County Sheriff (RSO), and the California Highway Patrol (CHP) all made their way to both fires that started that afternoon. The Wolf Fire started at Wolfskill Truck Road near Silver Creek Drive, south of Banning. The Sandalwood Fire started at Calimesa Boulevard and Sandalwood Drive in Calimesa.
“Our role was to help with traffic control, filter out the residents and keep the looky-loos out and looters away from the area that would want to cause havoc. We put four units and a supervisor in place in less than 10 minutes at the freeway off-ramps to let fire apparatus get through,” CHP Public Information Officer Darren Meyer said about the Sandalwood Fire.
At the peak of the Sandalwood Fire, there were well over 200 firefighters on the ground, along with several aircraft including helicopters and air tankers battling the fast-moving fire from above.
“There were ambulances going in and out to help expedite evacuations. I think what was more challenging, was an immediate need to evacuate a mobile home park to save as many lives as possible, and then send in as much equipment to help protect the homes,” Cal Fire Captain and Public Information Officer Fernando Herrera explained.
“Deputies conducted evacuations at the Villa Calimesa Mobile Home Park while the fire was burning within the complex, placing themselves in great danger. They warned unknowing citizens of the fire and were able to get them to move out of the danger area within minutes of their homes being destroyed by fire,” Deputy and Public Information Officer Robyn Flores said about the Sandalwood Fire.
When the Sandalwood Fire started, AMR was requested to send five paramedics and the Operations Manager for Central Riverside County Jack Hansen to standby to help with those who were injured. Once the situation began to stabilize for AMR, Hansen heard about the Wolf Fire and responded on his own accord to see where he could help.
“The main route to get to the fire from Sunset Drive to Old Idyllwild Road wasn’t passable. A local gave us a complicated route to get to the fire. My purpose was to have safe routing. We were never requested to actually have an ambulance there, but I stayed for a few hours to help crews find their way in and out,” Hansen said.
In a single shift, deputies and a lieutenant from the San Jacinto Sheriff’s station responded to both fires and assisted in evacuations at the Sandalwood Fire. They were staged to assist in evacuations for the Wolf Fire, but no evacuations were ever conducted. RSO coordinated evacuation efforts at the Wolf Fire with the Banning and Beaumont Police departments, and coordinated with CHP on road closures to keep the area secure and prevent anyone from placing themselves in harm’s way by entering the area.
Outside of working with public service agencies, RSO also worked with the school district and escorted school buses out of the area from Mesa Verde Middle School during the evacuation at the Sandalwood Fire.
When disaster happens, those of service come together to help each other and those in need, no matter the cost.
National First Responders Day was Monday, Oct. 28.