Ham radio is busy with the ongoing wildfires in Southern California. Massive fires have burned around 600,000 acres so far and estimates are that the overall size of the fires now equal an area about the size of New York City! Lives have been lost and damages are estimated in the billions of dollars just in the San Diego area alone. At the time of this post, an estimated 500,000 people have been displaced and the National Guard has been called out. Hams continue to provide communications at the Mountain Empire and Borrego Springs shelters over in Imperial County.
ARRL San Diego Section Manager Kent Tiburski, K6FQ, says “We’ve been busy, This is by far the worst disaster we’ve ever experienced.” it is estimated that about 200 Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) and Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) volunteers are participating.
Hams have also been assisting the Red Cross efforts in terms of logistics and helping out the damage assessment teams. Other hams are helping with communications between the California Department of Forestry and the Red Cross. Around 13,000 firefighters and and their support staff are presently fighting the fires in California.
As of this post, around 1200 homes and 450,000 acres in San Diego County alone have been burned. “Everybody I’ve talked with knows someone personally or knows of someone who has lost a house,” Tibruski said. The Mount Palomar observatory has been evacuated and firefighters were making a special effort to protect it.
The hot dry Santa Ana winds have subsided. Now a stiff breeze from the ocean is driving fires to the east.
Other hams in different areas of the state are providing assistance to the Salvation Army and other relief agencies. ARRL Orange Section Manager Carl Gardenias, WU6D, said “We actually have more Amateur Radio operators available than the Red Cross shelters can use”. With additional ARES teams and other volunteers operators, hams are actually able to rotate shifts.
“The intensity of these fires has never been at this level before,” Gardenias said, comparing the current situation with fire emergencies in the recent past. Hams have been “shadowing” Red Cross shelter managers by communicating supply requests and helping with health-and-welfare inquiries.
Last but not least, ham SSTV equipment is also being used to assist the firefighters. The equipment along with ham operators ride on the fire trucks and report back to command centers what is being seen.