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Dec 17th
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Fairgrounds transformed into Wye Fire command center

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An overhead view of the food service operation set up by Cal Fire at the Lake County Fairgrounds in Lakeport, Calif. The food service area provides meals to fire crews coming off the lines at the Wye Fire east of Clearlake Oaks, Calif. The photo was taken midday on Wednesday, August 15, 2012, before crews start arriving in the evening. The area includes a hand washing station that accommodates six at once, full food service, a laundry to support the food service operation, serving lines under the blue tents and an eating area off to the right. Photo by Richard Persons.

LAKEPORT, Calif. – Over the last several days the Lake County Fairgrounds have been transformed into the nerve center of Cal Fire’s firefighting operations for a large wildfire incident burning east of Clearlake Oaks.

Incident Commander Eric Hoffman and his team are using the fairgrounds as the base of their operations in the effort to contain the Wye Fire.

The Wye and Walker fires exploded on Sunday afternoon, burning thousands of acres along Highway 20 and leading to evacuations of Spring Valley and Wilbur Hot Springs, with the Walker Fire moving into Colusa County.

Hoffman heads up Cal Fire Incident Management Team 4, which is handling the two fires as one incident.

By Wednesday evening the fire had burned 7,934 acres, Cal Fire reported.

Cal Fire spokesman Kevin Colburn told Lake County News during a Wednesday visit to the command center that the Wye Fire is expected to be fully contained next Monday, Aug. 20.

“It’s looking pretty good out there,” Colburn said.

The fire, which had been moving to the northeast, had reached 75 percent containment by Wednesday evening, and by that time Colburn said some firefighters and resources already were being sent to a fire in Butte County.

As of Wednesday, the effort to fight the Wye Fire had cost approximately $4,244,640, Colburn said.

During the first days of the fire lack of wind had helped firefighters, according to a report that Hoffman and liaison officer Scott Lindgren gave to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

There were some light winds beginning Tuesday evening, but Colburn said those didn’t appear to have had much of an impact.

Bigger challenges were tough terrain and heat, with temperatures on the fire line about 110 degrees, he said.

The Little League diamonds at the Lake County Fairgrounds in Lakeport, Calif, with Pickle Field in the back behind the tree, covered in sleeping tents, each one with its own air conditioner to cool the firefighters while they sleep. On the right side of the field is the fuel depot and the waste water trucking operation in the foreground. Photo by Richard Persons.

Transforming the fairgrounds

Richard Persons, chief executive officer of the Lake County Fair, said officials arrived at 6 a.m. Monday and that day had the incident command center fully set up.

He said that the command base is using 28 acres of the fair’s 34-acre grounds. The only areas not being used are the speedway track – where races this weekend have been postponed – and Lewis Hall.

At the same time, final preparations are under way for the annual Lake County Fair, which this year takes place from Thursday, Aug. 30, through Sunday, Sept. 2.

Persons said this Saturday fair exhibits are due to start coming in. Normally, the exhibits would be received in three different buildings, but because the incident command needed the various buildings for operations the fair will use Lewis Hall only for receiving exhibits.

He said Cal Fire will pay for the use of the grounds, but a final number hasn’t been set and negotiations were still under way.

As to the timeline for the command center to transition out of the fairgrounds, “It’s been a moving target,” said Persons.

With the fire expected to be contained early next week, Persons said Cal Fire officials indicated the center will move at some time after that.

The last time the fairgrounds hosted a fire incident command center was about 12 years ago, said Persons, and it wasn’t as large or complex as the setup for the Wye Fire.

A tour around the fairgrounds showed what looked very much like a small city within a city, with different parts of the grounds dedicated to specific purposes.

Cal Fire communications trucks helped keep the command center fully connected on Wednesday, August 15, 2012, as it fought the Wye Fire in Lake County, Calif. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.

Parked near Konocti Christian Academy were communications trailers. Persons said the fairgrounds don’t have Internet services for the command center, so Cal Fire brought their own. On Monday, AT&T came in and hooked up phone lines.

Up at the Baldwin Pavilion, California Conservation Corps personnel were staged with supplies for firefighters, and had their own tents set up for bedding down at night.

Morning briefings are held on a grassy area outside of the theater building.

Most of the fair’s main buildings housed groups of Cal Fire employees handling matters such as finance, supplies and a number of other logistical concerns.

Around the grounds were tucked a number of air-conditioned sleeping tents for firefighters.

There was a large outdoor kitchen facility, with grills covered with steaks to feed hungry inmate firefighters coming off of the lines. The men ate in a covered grassy area.

Across Forbes Creek there were temporary laundry and shower facilities, with large water bladders of fresh water and other bladders to catch the used water. Persons said a sanitation company was coming in and out daily to remove the used water.

Nearby there was a fuel depot for all of the fire equipment and vehicles, and the baseball diamond was used for a large parking lot. There also were separate areas for vendors.

Colburn said that many of the Cal Fire staffers were staying at local motels nearby in Lakeport.

Jeff Tunnell, fire management specialist with the Ukiah office of the Bureau of Land Management, who was at the command center Wednesday, said the Wye Fire has burned about 1,500 acres of BLM land.

While BLM is a federal agency, “Cal Fire protects our lands, too,” Tunnell said.

“We didn’t lose any facilities or improvements,” he said, adding that the fire likely will help the habitat.

Cal Fire officials reported this week that the fire had jumped Highway 20 and burned about 50 acres in the Cache Creek Recreation Area.

While Tunnell said the recreation area remains open, Cal Fire said hunting has been restricted 10 miles north and south of Highway 20, between Highway 53 and Highway 16, due to fire conditions and in the interest of firefighter safety.  

Cal Fire has set up the Wye Fire Call Center for the public; the center can be reached at 707-967-4207 or 707-967-4208.

Email Elizabeth Larson at [email protected] .

Cal Fire vehicles lined one of the main pathways through the Lake County Fairgrounds in Lakeport, Calif., on Wednesday, August 15, 2012. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.

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Last Updated ( Thursday, 16 August 2012 02:17 )