We found this interesting article featuring a friend of Cold Fire Tactical™. The following article is courtesy of Leischen Stelter, editor of In Public Safety with American Military University and the link to the full article can be found at the bottom of this article.
On the morning of December 4, 2017, Captain Peter Jensen of the Ventura County Fire Department was called out of his regular duties and given a field assignment. He was to assist a Battalion Chief Fred Burris assess the wildfire conditions in Santa Clara Valley.
“We were expecting high winds, high temperatures and low humidity, so we were up-staffing the department—adding more firefighters and equipment,” said Jensen. He was told it would be a 24-hour assignment. Little did he know that night would quickly turn to days, and then weeks, as the Thomas Fire turned into the largest wildfire in California history.
But at 5:30pm, as Jensen and Burris stopped at a restaurant for dinner, there was still no sign of a fire. They had spent the day driving around the Santa Clara Valley, including the areas of Fillmore, Santa Paula and Ventura. “We had literally just ordered when the call came out and we were dispatched to a brush fire in our general area,” said Jensen.
The First on the Scene to the Thomas Fire
Jensen and Burris were the first operational command staff to arrive at the scene of the Thomas Fire. “As we were driving in, we could see the glow on the hillside growing rapidly,” he recalled. “The first four or five engines to arrive were trying to get access to the brush fire and also trying to protect structures and homes.”
Jensen, a wildland firefighter for 29 years, had never seen a fire expand so quickly. “The wind was blowing embers across the main roads and there were spot fires behind us and above us,” he said. “We were off to the races.”
Jensen headed back down into the city of Santa Paula proper with Burris to take the Operations Section position. “As equipment was coming in, we were trying to keep track of resources and where everything was assigned,” he said. After about 40 or so minutes they transitioned out to a Branch position when a Type 1 Operations Chief from within the agency arrived and took over.
Just 45 minutes into the response, they received word that a separate fire had started further up the canyon, near the community of Ojai. Firefighters now had two rapidly spreading fires on their hands, and both called for major resources. “Some of the equipment in route to the original fire was diverted to the new start – we were trying to get as much equipment to both fires as quickly as possible,” said Jensen. It was nearly midnight by the time the first 10 of the requested strike teams of engines (five engines each) arrived from outside agencies to help. “We were so shorthanded for the size and rate of spread of this fire, we were spreading resources dangerously thin to protect what we could,” according to Jensen.
In a matter of hours flames had engulfed thousands of acres. “The way the fire leapfrogged over mountain tops…It moved at a pace I’d never seen before in my nearly three decades of experience,” said Jensen. “A typical wildfire would probably take a week to travel that far and this fire took six hours.”
Early Notification and Evacuations
Firefighters were trying desperately to stay ahead of the fire and, most importantly, to evacuate communities in the path it was burning. In October 2017, fires in Napa and Sonoma County spread more rapidly than anticipated, killing 44 people and destroying 245,000 acres. Authorities were heavily criticized for not sending out widespread notifications of the fire’s movement.
“I think that if it wasn’t for the Napa fires, we wouldn’t have had the level of respect for the speed this fire was travelling,” Jensen said. “We learned lessons from Napa to get our evacuation distances out farther than we have in the past.”
However, many residents refused to abide by voluntary evacuation requests. This was an extra obstacle for fire service personnel who then had to spend time notifying people when the fire was headed directly for them. “Our priority is life, then property, then the environment,” said Jensen. “When you’re stuck on the life part, you don’t have the resources or the time to deal with property.” There were numerous reports of people being notified and rescued from their homes that were burning around them undenounced to occupants on the inside.
A Destructive Blaze
The second day of the fire, Jensen was part of the command team as a Division stationed in Ojai, and the small community of Oak View. This area has homes scattered along the hillsides and more defined neighborhoods down in the flat area along the creek bed. There was little activity that morning and afternoon as firefighters monitored homes in the community. But at 4pm, as it began to get dark, the call came across the radio that fire was advancing quickly towards the neighborhood and was crossing the creek bed. Within 45 minutes, a terrifying fire storm was blowing across the main road, taking with it homes and building structures.
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“It went from nothing—calm—to houses on fire and propane tanks blowing like huge torches,” recalled Jensen. “I was just shocked. We tried to bring in more resources to save what we could, but the hillside was fully ablaze.” The fire had multiple spots on the hillside ahead of the fire impacting the lower neighborhood. It had jumped above and behind many of the resources standing ready for the fight.
The Thomas Fire destroyed a lot of property – on the first night, 500 homes were destroyed in Ventura County alone. In total after nearly six weeks, the fire would destroy 1,063 structures, damage 280 more, and burn 281,893 acres, according to CAL Fire.
The speed and power of the wildfire was beyond what firefighters could contend with. Under those circumstances, one engine had 5 or 6 houses to deal with. “You have to prioritize which one to put out and unfortunately they aren’t all going to make it,” said Jensen. “You also have to ask yourself: Is putting out that house the best place for you, or should you be another block down, knocking on doors and getting people out?”
Considering the strength and scope of the fire, it’s remarkable that there were only two fatalities from the Thomas Fire—a woman killed in a car accident while fleeing the fire, and a firefighter who was overcome while fighting the fire.
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Jensen continued to work the Thomas Fire on 24-hour shifts, every other day, until Christmas Eve. After Christmas he worked 12-hour days, assigned to extinguishing the natural oil seeps that had caught fire. That assignment ended on January 7. Jensen was one of 8,500 of firefighters who worked day and night to contain the Thomas Fire – the largest mobilization of firefighters to combat any wildfire in California history.
The fire was officially contained on January 12. In the latter days of the fire, Jensen flew in a helicopter over the fire path. “It was very shocking to look at it from the air and see the distance the fire covered in less than three hours,” he said. “It was truly unbelievable.”
About Peter Jensen: Captain Peter Jensen of the Ventura County Fire Department has been an “all-risk” firefighter for 29 years and is currently serving as the department’s Hazardous Materials Officer. He earned a Master’s degree in Emergency & Disaster Management from American Military University. To contact him, please email[email protected].
As the political climate throughout the world begins to heat up, protests and counter-protests have become increasingly more animated and angry, and have quite often involved potentially hazardous materials. Within just the past few weeks, the US has experienced some large-scale protests that were steps away from disaster in the eyes of civil servants.
In Charlottesville, protesters marched through the University of Virginia campus carrying tiki torches. Unknowingly, these rioters in Charlottesville were wielding Molotov Cocktails. With one flick of a tiki torch and there could have been a large fire catastrophe in a crowd of people.
For first responders, police officers, and riot control, the potential for major fire is not just a threat but a very real danger that they need to be prepared for. That means having the best equipment for the job.
Many police forces are taking a safer approach to dealing with civil disturbances. The Seattle police prepared for the May Day riots by practicing bike wall formations, wearing riot gear and arming themselves with Cold Fire™ Tactical cans.
Cold Fire™ is a non-toxic, non-corrosive wetting agent that serves as a fire extinguisher while being safe to discharge in a crowded area.
Cold Fire™ was created for one purpose: to save lives in the event of a fire. Cold Fire™ has become an invaluable fire suppression agent for service members and has become known as the safest fire extinguishing product on the market today.
And it’s approved. According to the EPA’s website, Cold Fire™ is listed in the SNAP (Significantly New Alternative Policy Program) alternative fire extinguishers as a safer option to Halon.
When you send your team out to protect civilians in a high-tension, potentially hazardous situation, you want to be assured that they have the best, safest, most-effective equipment available to them. And when things heat up, you don’t want to be without a personal Cold Fire™ tactical can to safely extinguish fires. Because, ultimately, it’s all about protection–your service members, civilians, and the environment.
Last December, Dixon Auto Transport driver was traveling on a rural Texas road when he noticed the flames and smoke in his passenger side mirror. His passenger side drive tire was on fire. He pulled off to the shoulder, grabbed his new Cold Fire Tactical unit, and ran around to the side of the truck. By this point, the tire had exploded and flames were shooting six to seven feet in the air. Mike could see the steel brake drums glowing cherry red in the overwhelming heat. He deployed the Cold Fire Tactical Unit and, in a matter of seconds, the fire was extinguished. When the smoke cleared, he could see the heat had melted the aluminum wheels.
Fire losses are among the most devastating losses motor carriers suffer, yet they have always plagued the transportation industry. Between the equipment and the cargo, the damages may easily range from $200,000 to over $500,000. Even the best maintenance may not be enough to prevent a fire, as the causes vary widely, such as a defective wheel bearing, worn out wiring insulation, or simply an under-inflated tire. However the fire starts, it is nearly impossible to extinguish due to the quantity of combustible materials surrounding the fire and the intense heat the fire emits that makes those same materials reignite after the initial flames are put out.
Reignition is one of the most common reasons that turns what may have been a manageable loss into an expensive conflagration. Most dry chemical fire extinguishers put out fires by driving away the oxygen to smother the flames, but they do not address the retained heat in the object that was burning. However, newly available fire safety products, such as Cold Fire Tactical, will not only put out the flames but will also super cool the heat source and surrounding areas, thus preventing the heat from reigniting the fire. With the right product, some fire stories like this one end in success instead of disaster, as Dixon Auto Transport discovered. The Driver had just outfitted its entire fleet with Cold Fire Tactical RTU 1.5 gallon kits the month before.
A few weeks after the fire, in a phone conversation with Thom Payson, the president of Cold Fire Tactical, Mike explained that he was a volunteer firefighter in his South Georgia hometown and shared his experience with Cold Fire Tactical. As a trained firefighter, Mike said he knew there was no way a regular dry chemical extinguisher could have even touched that fire, let alone put it out.
Bill Fralic Insurance Services and Cold Fire Tactical congratulate the Driver for his level-headed response and decisive actions that turned a catastrophe into a spectacular success story.
For information on Cold Fire Tactical, contact Thom Payson at (913)908-2167 or [email protected].