News From the Farm | July 9, 2018

“We have seen unprecedented rates of spread and unusually erratic and dangerous behavior in fires over the last 5 years,” said Section Chief Brenton, a 31-year Cal Fire veteran, at a community meeting in Guinda last week.

As I write this, Cal Fire is still working to contain the northern edge of the fire (west of Full Belly Farm). The farm is in no danger, as we are across the highway from the fire, but we continue to see flames and smoke, mostly from a planned back-burn that was started last night. The amazing water-tanker-helicopters are still at work, roaring low right over the farm to hover over Cache Creek while sucking up water. We watch as they circle back to the fire and we can sometimes see a sheet of water falling from the belly of the helicopter. In one 14-hour period, 20 helicopters dropped 640,000 gallons of water on the fire, but it kept burning.

At the meeting, the fire fighters described the tactics they had used to put out the fire in the very steep and inaccessible terrain in the hills west of the Capay Valley.  The Section Chief described the hills as ‘ugly,’ but the Outreach Officer was quick to correct him, saying that what he meant to say was ‘rugged.’  The fire had grown unusually quickly (now almost 90,000 acres) and “chewed right through” retardant dropped by a huge air tanker – “the biggest airplane we have.”

Meanwhile, in southern California, a heat wave is shattering records, with temperatures that would be dispiriting even for us well-acclimated Central Valley dwellers.  In Riverside 113-degrees and 110 in Van Nuys… Now there are dangerous fires in southern California (the Valley Fire) and north of us in Siskiyou County (the Klamathon fire).  As Guinda and Rumsey residents asked questions about our situation, fire personnel tried to explain how they had made hard decisions about where their fire-fighting equipment was most needed.

Without mentioning climate change, the Cal Fire staff, many of whom had worked on fires in California for more than 30 years, referred over and over again to fire behavior that they had never seen before.  To have so many ‘huge’ fires burning this early in the season is unprecedented. It seems appropriate to me that significant funds for wildfire prevention have come from California’s climate cap and trade program.

After the meeting, thoughtful people were already thinking forward to winter rains and the need to prevent erosion, mud slides and flooding in the hills.  As our CSA members and farmers market customers know, at Full Belly, the height of the season has its own urgency, and our thoughts returned, as always, to the abundance of summer produce, waiting in the fields for us to find it a home.

—Judith Redmond

On July 4th, with fires over the hill, the kids of Guinda had a parade!  The firefighters in the first photo were from Oakland. Thank you Tracy Harding for the photos.