On Friday morning, Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux was joined by Tulare County Supervisor Dennis Townsend and Assemblymember Jim Patterson at the Porterville Fairgrounds, where they attended the morning briefing for the SQF Complex fires, before heading up to Balch Park to tour some of the damage the fires have caused in the local mountain communities.
During the daily unified officers briefing on Friday, several of the CAL FIRE officers reporting used the phrase “OneTeam, One Fight” to assure all personnel working to contain the fires will continue to work as one team, even though they're spread across a vast area of the SQF Complex fires. Townsend was offered a chance to speak, and he expressed his gratitude to the men and women actively working to contain the fires.
“I want to express to all of you who are working on these incidents, how much the community appreciates you,” said Townsend. “You guys and gals are in our hearts and in our prayers all the time. I have been receiving personal emails, texts, Facebook messages, saying how much the community does appreciate you. I know this is a terrible incident, but it could be so much worse. There could be many more losses if it weren't for all of your heroic efforts working day and night on this. On behalf of the whole community, and on behalf of Tulare County, we really want to express our heartfelt gratitude to all of you.”
After the meeting concluded, Boudreaux hosted a small media briefing to explain the difference and the importance of voluntary and mandatory evacuations.
“I think it’s important for people to understand that when these notices go out that are voluntary, that’s really important for people to understand, assuredly that is voluntary,” said Boudreaux. “We are not making you leave at that point, but we are making notice that it’s important for you to begin to prepare. That preparation could be very important and vital when it comes to the mandatory (evacuation). When we push the button on that mandatory, that means that danger is assuredly coming quickly. We don’t want you to have to scamper for your pets or your family memories, or things you would hope not to be caught up in a fire. We want you to be fully prepared.
“The other important part that I think people don’t understand is that the mandatory is put in place to open up the roadways. We don’t want roadways blocked, we want people to be able to get into the area as far as trying to get to the fire. If we can get people out before emergency services has to go in, that planning and that good communication ahead of time is important for resources to get there quickly and for families and people who live there can get out in a safe way and not in a rush.”
Shortly after 10 a.m., Boudreaux, Townsend and Patterson loaded into a car and drove into the Sequoia National Forest towards Balch Park to tour some of the damage the SQF Complex fires have caused. While they didn't witness any active fires on Friday, they did speak with Karine Hunt, CAL FIRE Forestry Assistant II, who explained the importance of prescribed burns in the forest, and how the prescribed fires can help the Old Growth Giant Sequoia trees regenerate.
“Here at Balch Park, CAL FIRE and Balch Park Tulare County had the good opportunity to work together last year, and we did a prescribed burn in here,” said Hunt. “A lot of the char you see here on the Old Growth Giant Sequoias, and you’ll notice that there’s not much debris underneath, all of that is gone thanks to that prescribed burn. That fire was in here for months, so that really helped a lot here in order to protect it from extreme fire.
“When we go through and do our prescribed burns, we do fuel treatments to make sure that we keep it low severity. We obviously don't want to burn up the Old Growth Giant Sequoia trees, but you have to take into consideration that they love fire. They depend upon fire, that’s how they regenerate. All the fire was burning up when it came through here was anything that hadn’t been taken out by the prescribed fire or that had been dropped this year.
“In some of our areas that have a federal border and have had a little less treatment or based on the landscape or topography, we definitely did see some more severe fire. One thing I think is really important to remember though, is that the Sierra Nevadas have evolved in the face of fire. They need fire, a lot of the trees we see here need fire. But what they’re not used to is lack of fire for so long and a build up of fuels. In these areas where we’ve been able to do the treatments, get in and do prescribed fire and fuel treatments, we don’t see that crown fire and things like that.”
Patterson was amazed at the impact the prescribed burn had on the area of Balch Park. Patterson stated prescribed burns would make it safer for firefighters to fight extreme fires when they occur.
“To me, this really is the story,” said Patterson. “What you’re seeing is the result of the strategic and tactical use, not only now with the resources that are here, but what you did previously to anticipate, and that’s what we see here... When you do this kind of stuff, our firefighters are safer… The more we do this, the less we're going to lose, and the safer our firefighters are going to be. That’s the lesson I’ve learned here.”
UP TO 129,000 ACRES
As of Friday evening, the Sequoia Complex consisting of the Castle Fire and the Shotgun Fire in the Golden Trout Wilderness, had burned 128,902 acres and remained at 12 percent contained.