Southern California residents know too well — wildfire can start at anywhere, anytime. When large incidents break out like the Highland fire near Beaumont, fire officials take their office to the fire.
“Anytime we have more resources assigned to an incident than we can support at a fire station, we’ll set up a command post like this one. Then we’re able to have everybody in a central location,” Captain Jeff Kanov said while sitting in the air-conditioned command post at this weekend’s Beaumont blaze.
“When crews come off the fire line they are able to get fed and we get intelligence from them (about current fire conditions),” he said.
According to Kanov, officials will set up their command posts anywhere it is necessary, but will sometimes be without utility power, communications, and other services to sustain the operation.
But, once antennas, satellite dishes and generators are transported to the scene, officials can command some of the largest and most complex incidents they face during the fire season.
“We have internet access, phone lines, fax capabilities and depending on how complex the incident gets, we can do satellite downlinks to get infrared images on the fire,” the captain said. “Right now, we are running all logistical support, finance for the fire, operations and planning out of these trailers.”
Behind the scenes at Highland Fire near Beaumont:
Bringing command posts to the scene saves time and money, according to Kanov.
“We don’t have to send the crews back to their stations which increases fuel costs, plus with guys that have been out for 24 hours, we don’t have the safety factor of them having to driving across the county to sleep,” Kanov said.
Firefighters work hard and they work up an appetite, so CalFire brings out its Mobile Kitchen Unit which feeds the crews breakfast, lunch and dinner. The Mobile Kitchen Unit is run by inmates from the California Department of Corrections.
“CalFire has several MKUs throughout Southern California. Anytime we are serving (more than) 250 people it makes it more cost effective to bring a kitchen out here versus trying to send people to restaurants to eat,” Kanov said. “There is no way we’re going to impact Denny’s and say ‘hey, by the way, we’re sending you 600 people, can you feed them.’”
The kitchen is supplied with food from a third party food vendor that CalFire contracts, according to Kavon.
“They bring the food here and we cook and serve the food,” he said.
Once it is deemed necessary to set up a command post, it takes anywhere from six to 12 hours for it to be fully operational, according to Kavon.
The post consists of sleeping tents, medical supplies, hoses, the kitchen units, command trailers, generators, fuel, and other supplies they need to fight the biggest of fires.
Kavon said: “It’s like a city.”
Daniel Lane is a photojournalist and regular contributor to SWRNN.