Dozens killed, countless homes lost, hundreds of thousands of acres burning and conditions that have been described as hell on earth.
“These fires are moving at the rate of a football field every three seconds and you just can’t stop them when they’re moving like that and you see those types of winds,” says Bryan May the public information officer for the California Office Of Emergency Services, or CAL OES.
California is in a state of emergency, that means the California State Operations Center run by CAL OES is activated. It’s described at a 911 for local 911.
“The initial response to those are done on the local level and at some point they realize we can’t handle that on our own we’re going to need some help they call us here at our State Operations Center and we immediately send out kind of the bat signal if you will and we start bringing all hands on deck,” says May.
They drill year round for emergencies, and monitor the center 24/7 but it’s fully staffed around the clock during emergencies like the fires burning across the state.
May says they have experts from every agency they work with at the ready, “We get the Department of Water Resources in, we get Cal Trans in because there are roads that are damaged … the National Weather Service we begin every briefing that we have with an update from the National Weather Service, we have the California National Guard because they provide a lot of air support for fighting these fires, and then mapping overnight to see where they are, we have the American Red Cross, we’ve got all different services behind us so that if you have a question or an issue rather than trying to track someone down on the phone or via email you walk over to where they’re sitting and you ask and you solve the problems immediately.”
They’ve been working closely with incident commanders on the front likes of the fires to make sure they have every resource they need to fight the fires through their mutual aid system.
“We have over 8000 firefighters that are battling the fires in California we have seven states outside of California that are here to help, hundreds of engines at this point in time,” says May.
And with hundreds of thousands forced to flee from their homes, those communities need more than fire protection.
“We’ve had a quarter of a million Californians have had to be evacuated in the past seven days, that means that there are areas that are very vulnerable and we’ve got mutual aid in the form of California Highway Patrol, the National Guard as well as Military Police that are in and helping and so the mutual aid is not only on the front lines with the firefighters but really in all aspects,” says May.
That includes providing food, medicine, shelter and clothing for those displaced including their pets.
“We also have to turn around and make sure that the people who have been evacuated have a place to stay and they’ve got a bed and cots and blankets we have to have food and clothing and water for them and make sure that they’re okay, medicines a lot of people have left their animals behind as well we’ve got to take care of those and make sure they’ve been taken care of,” says May adding it doesn’t end there, they’e also setting up Local Assistance Centers at the shelters, “keep in mind a lot of these people left with not much on them so it’s a place to make sure that their insurance is up to date, in some cases getting new drivers licenses, social security cards and passports checking with insurance companies having contractors all in one place where you can start the rebuilding process.”
May says CAL OES says they will be there long after the fire is out, “We are all in this together and we will be here with everyone until these incidents are over and we get people back to some sort of some sense of normalcy.”