HFD and CalFire hot on the heels of hometown blazes

The Hollister Fire Department's downtown station. Photo by John Chadwell.
Cal Fire air tanker. Photo by Jessica Schillings.
This year California is seeing an earlier, longer and more destructive wildfire season because of drought conditions, with warmer weather also being a factor.
Large fires erupted this summer as the state has seen record-setting temperatures, though fire season has begun to wind down.

San Benito County residents have expressed concern about which agency—Hollister Fire Department or Cal Fire—will respond with fire protection services including structure fire, vegetation fire, vehicle accidents and medical emergencies.

Cal Fire has responded to wildfires in San Benito County this year. Read BenitoLink’s coverage of those fires: Multiple Wildfires Burning in South San Benito County and Two wildfires burning in south San Benito County.Paicines resident Nicholas Peters lives not too far from the two Panoche Fire incidents.

“The fires were about three-quarters of a mile south of us and they were headed east,” said Peters. “I do not think we were in much danger as Cal Fire really jumped on getting the fire out.”

San Juan Bautista rancher Celeste Settrini said the Manzanita Fire reached her property on Sept. 1.

“We had a young gentleman already out on the ranch when the blaze sparked,” Settrini said. “It could have been much worse if he wasn’t there.”

Settrini said Cal Fire responded within 15 minutes from the initial call. The fire burned mainly brush. The property has been used for grazing which played a role by reducing fuel and helping stop the blaze from spreading.

‘“Cal Fire’s main responsibility is for the prevention and suppression of wildland areas within the State Responsibility Area,” said Cal Fire unit forester Jonathan Pangburn. State responsibility area, he said, “does not include lands within city boundaries or in federal ownership.”

According to Cal Fire’s website, a state responsibility area includes:

  • Lands covered wholly or in part by forests or by trees capable of producing forest products.
  • Lands covered wholly or in part by timber, brush, undergrowth, or grass, whether of commercial value or not, which protect the soil from excessive erosion, retard runoff of water, or accelerate water percolation, if such lands are sources of water which is available for irrigation or for domestic or industrial use.
  • Lands in areas which are principally used or useful for range or forage purposes, which are contiguous to other lands so defined. It is important to understand that lands in state responsibility area are based on vegetative cover and natural resource values. State responsibility area lands include state and privately-owned forest, watershed, and rangeland in which the primary financial responsibility for preventing and suppressing wildland fires rests with the state. Lands within city boundaries or in federal ownership are not in the state responsibility area. The state responsibility area is determined under regulations of the executive board.

“The city of Hollister has taken on their jurisdiction for the county,” Pangburn said. “Although our main job is wildland, we will respond to other calls when Cal Fire services are available.”

Cal Fire has responded to medical emergencies before at Pinnacles National Park using helitack—helicopter-delivered fire resources—and assisted with vehicle accidents in the county.

Pangburn said Cal Fire is the third largest fire organization in the United States.

“Our job is to serve the public,” he said.

Hollister Fire Department has jurisdiction within San Benito County and Hollister city limits, with the exception of Aromas Fire District which operates under a cooperative fire protection agreement with CalFire.

“The local responsibility area is our territory,” said Phil Rossi, Hollister Fire Department battalion chief. “Hollister Fire responds to medical, vehicle accidents, structure fires, grass fires and technical type rescues. If there is a threat to the wildland outside of the local responsibility area, Cal Fire will dispatch for our services to assist them.”

In 2013, the Hollister Fire Department incorporated San Juan Bautista’s volunteer fire program into their department.

“We now have 24/7 staffing in San Juan Bautista to serve District 4 of our county,” Rossi said.

He added that the executive Cal Fire staff in Sacramento determines where boundaries are drawn for the state responsibility areas in California.

“It’s based off where watersheds are available to fight wildland fires,” he said.

With over 12 currently active wildfires in California, the fire season has stressed Cal Fire agencies all the way down to the Office of Emergency Services.

“Hollister sent out water tender fire Engine 53 to assist with fighting the Carr Fire [in Shasta County],” Rossi said. “We train monthly for different service calls, but gear up heavily in the springtime to prepare for wildland fires.”

For a map of fire jurisdictions for wildland fires, check out the link below:

http://frap.fire.ca.gov/data/frapgismaps/sra11_2/sramap.35.pdf 

Blaire Strohn

Blaire Strohn is a graduate student at Oklahoma State University focusing on International Agriculture. Blaire also graduated from California State University, Fresno with a Bachelors Degree in Agriculture Communications. Born and raised on a cow/calf operation ranch in Paicines, she is passionate about the agriculture community and western way of life.