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BP Fire Safe Council gaining momentum

July 23, 2012

An aerial view of the 2011 Center Fire shows the path and patchwork of wind-driven wildland fires in relation to the community of Big Pine. File photo

At Monday’s fifth meeting of the Big Pine Fire Safe Council, residents learned just how close the bullet the community dodged on Saturday, July 7 actually came.
The large turnout, perhaps spurred on by two consecutive Saturdays of brush fires in or near the town, also began to come together with the first small steps in protecting themselves and their homes from the constant threat of wildland fires.
Eric Abrams, a CalFire and Big Pine Volunteer firefighter, briefed the residents on the details of the Fish Fire, the blaze that scorched 1,103 acres of brush south of the community. “It was a hard-charging fire,” he said of the blaze that started just north of Fish Springs Road and was driven by gusting winds out of the south. “It was the quick action of the agencies that stopped it.”
According to Abrams, the firefighters got ahead of the blaze and created a buffer zone between the fire and the south end of Big Pine.
A big factor was the air support. Abrams said the aircraft were called up by CalFire when it got the dispatch, before the crews and equipment left the station in Bishop. “The air support was already in orbit,” said Abrams. “We were able to divert them from the west side of the mountains.”
The picture Abrams drew was grim. Without the buffer and the air support, the fire would have followed the same path the Center Fire had taken 18 months earlier on its way to destroying 19 homes.
The first four meetings of the newly-formed council had been overwhelmed with issues of fuel reduction and larger issues of fire safety. Fourth District Supervisor Marty Fortney and council member Kent Schlick suggested the group take on simpler projects to start with, specifically putting up visible numbers on homes to help emergency responders locate residents.
Just that single goal illustrated the complexity of a community made up of two areas: one to the north and the older, original community of Big Pine straddling U.S. 395. The recommended location for reflective address numbers is on the residence and on the curb. “Much of Big Pine doesn’t have curbs or sidewalks,” said Fortney.
Plans included a bulk mailing to residents with fire safe literature and information on the recommended reflective address numbers: no less than four inches in height on a contrasting background.
The bigger issues of fuel reduction on Los Angeles Department of Water and Power land and action against owners of abandoned homes that had degenerated into fire traps, a misdemeanor the Inyo County District Attorney will not prosecute, will be dealt with eventually. Schlick’s comment from the outset of the council meetings was that residents had to do what they could to protect their own homes before moving toward larger targets.
According to Fortney, the issues of abandoned fire traps was being transferred to the Inyo County Counsel’s Office with the hope of some action.
The next meeting of the Big Pine Fire Safe Council is 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 20, at the Town Hall on Dewey Street.

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