Radio amateurs’ non-stop fire duty draws praise from ARRL section manager
Amateur Radio Emergency Service members in the San Diego, Calif., area spent two weeks assisting the American Red Cross and the California Division of Forestry during the so-called Pines Fire. American Radio Relay League San Diego Section Manager Kent Tiburski, K6FQ, said dozens of ARES members responded July 30 to a full callout. The fire started a day earlier after the blade of an Army National Guard helicopter on drug patrol struck the ground near Volcan Mountain. Hundreds of residents had to be evacuated as the fast-moving wildfire some 60 miles northeast of San Diego threatened homes.
“Amateur radio played a major role in the safe evacuation of residents from their homes to Red Cross-maintained shelters,” Tiburski said. “Hams manned several shelters including one at Julian High School.” The high school served as the primary shelter as well as the California Division of Forestry’s field operations center. ARES members also were detailed to other shelters in Shelter Valley and Ramona. Hams later assisted the Red Cross in damage assessment.
“The fire early on had destroyed power and telephone lines, leaving the east county towns without telephone and cellular service,” Tiburski said. “Hams utilized numerous repeaters during the fire to cover the rugged back country of San Diego County.” Radio operators quickly set up vital communication links between the Red Cross emergency operations center and workers in the field, earning later praise from Red Cross officials.
“As the fire lines quickly changed, radio operators stayed one step ahead of the fire, radioing information necessary to assure an appropriate Red Cross disaster response,” said Red Cross Public Information Officer Jay Esper. “Without the quality service from the ARES radio operators, the American Red Cross could not maintain the high quality of service to its clients.”
Tiburski had special praise to San Diego County and the county’s Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service team for loaning its new county-wide repeater system. He said the more than 40 ARES members, some working multiple shifts round-the-clock, passed hundreds of messages without missing a beat.
Doug Morris, W6DUG, who assisted at the Julian shelter, said he was “overwhelmed” at how dependent the community was upon the services of Amateur Radio. “It seemed many hams who had never been involved in this type of operation volunteered and found themselves badly needed,” he said in a message to Tiburski.
For his part, Tiburski said he was gratified and pleased at how well the ARES members responded. “Their selfless devotion to providing emergency communications in time of need reflected great credit upon ARES and the Amateur Radio Service,” Tiburski said. “I’m proud to be their section manager.”
The Pines Fire burned over some 62,000 acres and destroyed three dozen homes and another 100 or so other structures. Tiburski said it was the largest and longest-burning fire in San Diego County to require ARES support.
(American Radio Relay League Newsletter.)