Thursday, 25 July 2024

Firefighters, bulldozers slow Walker Fire's growth

Anthony Wanzer of Lakeport was among several private bulldozer operators working to cut fire lines on Wednesday, June 25, 2008. Photo by John Jensen.


WALKER RIDGE – Walker Ridge Road winds through thousands of acres of remote land, the trees and vegetation – once green with vegetation – now smoking, black and skeletal. {sidebar id=87}

Here and there, however, there are islands of still-green bushes and plants, and the occasional undamaged pine tree, usually surrounded by a newly cut bulldozer line.

There are also signs of life – a bird flying overhead, looking for a place to land amidst the charred landscape; quail running alongside of the road. There's even a rattlesnake lying on the gravel, washboarded road. He decides it's time to leave and eases over the edge of the road as he becomes the subject of a photo.

This charred landscape is what's left behind after the Walker Fire – burning since Sunday, about 14 miles east of Clearlake Oaks – has passed through.

Dan Sendek, a Cal Fire division chief for safety and training, said that the fire was making constant runs along Walker Ridge Wednesday afternoon, but by evening there was no active fire to be seen for miles.

It was a day of significant gains for firefighters, who kept the fire from gaining much ground.

The night before, dozer crews cut 20 miles of line in an effort to keep the fire from spreading, said Cal Fire Firefighter Talon Sutherland.

By day's end Wednesday the fire had reached 14,500 acres, with 10-percent containment, said Sutherland. There were 592 firefighting personnel in the county to work on the fire.

Sutherland said the fire was moving south southeast toward Highway 20; however, the highway remained open Wednesday night.

During the afternoon, Sendek said that more aerial water drops on the fire had taken place.



A rattler makes his exit from the gravel roadway. The snake was one of a few signs of wildlife still present in the area on Wednesday, June 25, 2008. Photo by John Jensen.



He also reported that the cause of the fire was not lightning-related, although the official cause wasn't yet determined.

On Wednesday evening, most of the fire crews had been pulled out of the Walker Ridge area and sent to base camp at Konocti Conservation Camp, located along Highway 29 between Kelseyville and Lower Lake.

Keeping a watch at Walker Ridge

Staying on scene at Walker Ridge for the night were strike teams from Monterey and Placer counties, keeping an eye out to make sure there were no flareups.



Robert Foxworthy is a member of a Monterey County strike team staying on scene on Walker Ridge on Wednesday, June 25, 2008. The team was scheduled to stay overnight to watch for flareups. Photo by John Jensen.


Farther down along the road, at about 7 p.m., was a crew of bulldozer operators who had previously been at the Wild Fire, which burned more than 4,000 acres in Solano and Napa counties.

The men are private contractors hired by Cal Fire to come in and put their bulldozing skills to work building containment lines.

The lines also will clear up the area so hand crews can come in and do the intensive work of cleaning up flareups, said Anthony Wanzer of Lakeport, who owns A/T Wanzer Grading and Excavating.

Wanzer and other members of the team – Adam Peters of RB Peters in Lakeport, Gary Calvi who owns his own Sebastopol-based construction company, and Jerry Shuck, also of Sebastopol – arrived at the fire about midday Wednesday “and went right to work,” said Wanzer.

The men said they've been receiving other calls from all over to come to work on other fires – including those in the Mendocino National Forest.




The scorched landscape left behind by the Walker Fire stretches for miles along Walker Ridge Road. Photographed Wednesday, June 25, 2008. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.



They also agreed than they've had more calls for fire work this week that in the past five years.

Wanzer pointed across a draw to a nearby hill, where a path of white ash led up one side. He explained that the ash indicated an area where the fire had burned very hot.

The men were tired but seemed in good spirits Wednesday evening, despite the fact that they missed out on a steak dinner back at the base camp.

Calvi said they would remain there overnight. They've been sleeping in their trucks for days.

Local firefighters get a rest

Wednesday was a day of rest for members of the Lake County strike team, said Lakeport Fire Chief Ken Wells.

The firefighters – coming from all county fire protection districts – were the first responders over the weekend. The first day and a half on the Walker Fire, they didn't get much rest, said Wells.




The smoky air turned the sunlight bright orange. Photographed Wednesday, June 25, 2008, along Walker Ridge Road. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.



Now, they're on a cycle of 24 hours on duty, 24 hours off, he said.

Wells said the local teams are supposed to be back on duty at 7 a.m. Thursday.

Elsewhere around the county, it's been fairly quiet, said Wells. Mostly his department is receiving a lot of calls about the smoke, and fielding questions from area residents concerned about how the air could possibly affect their health.

Area residents seem more vigilant and aware of fire concerns right now, he said.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..




In the distance, a water tender and, beyond that, equipment on a far rise along Walker Ridge Road on Wednesday, June 25, 2008. Photo by John Jensen.



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