Verizon produces ad touting their services for first responders after throttling becomes an issue

While fighting one of the largest wildfires in California’s recorded history, the company reduced the data rate for a fire department’s account to 1/200th of normal.

Mendocino Complex of Fires
The Mendocino Complex of Fires. Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office photo.

Six weeks after the Santa Clara Fire Department said Verizon reduced their data rate for a command and control unit to 1/200th of normal while fighting a huge fire, the company has purchased time on television networks with a commercial titled “Enabling Heroes”.

The commercial which ran during a football game this weekend showing people that are represented as firefighters, has a spokesmodel saying, “In times of crisis their calls go through and they can get their jobs done”, and the company has “a dedicated lane on our network just for first responders”.

The fire department personnel staffing Santa Clara’s OES Incident Support Unit 5262 earlier this year while battling the Mendocino Complex of Fires, one of the largest blazes in the history of California, knew they had an unlimited data plan for the equipment used to track, organize, and prioritize routing of resources from around the state and country to the sites where they are most needed.

While fighting the fire the department discovered the Verizon data connection for the command and control unit was being throttled. Data rates had been reduced to 1/200th, or less, of the previous speeds. Fire Chief Anthony Bowden wrote in a court filing that the “reduced speeds severely interfered with the OES 5262’s ability to function effectively”. The County has signed on to a legal effort to overturn the Federal Communication Commission’s repeal of net neutrality rules.

While the fire was burning, the department explained to Verizon the problem and asked the company to restore their data capability, but it did not happen quickly. After going around and around for a while, eventually the department’s administrative section had to work with Verizon and sign up for a different plan.

In the last couple of years the four major cell phone providers have advertised “unlimited” data plans, but they ARE ALL LIMITED in various ways.

The department thought their plan described as “unlimited” actually meant that. Critics say they should have read the fine print in their contract, while others say Verizon should have immediately restored their data and worried about the contract issues later after the smoke cleared. A comment in one of our articles about this issue looked as if it could have been written by a lobbyist for Verizon.

Wildfire burns thousands of acres east of Fairfield, California

The Branscombe Fire is on both sides of Hwy. 12 near Branscombe Road

Branscombe Fire
Branscombe Fire, October 7, 2018. Photo by Solano County Sheriff’s Office.

(UPDATED at 5:17 p.m. PDT October 8, 2018)

The CBS TV station in San Francisco has video of another structure that ignited on the Branscombe Fire late Monday afternoon.


(UPDATED at 8:18 a.m. PDT October 8, 2018)

The Branscombe Fire that began Sunday morning east of Fairfield, California destroyed one residence, one barn, and two vehicles, a spokesperson from the Solano County Sheriff’s office said Sunday evening.

After it started near Travis Air Force Base the fire ran south crossing Highway 12 and bumped up against Cutoff Slough near Grizzly Island Road and the larger Montezuma Slough. Those water courses stopped the spread in some areas but the Sacramento River farther south should serve as a more formidable fire break if it continues to grow in that direction. However, Sunday evening firefighters were starting to get a handle on it and released resources from outside Solano County.

The Red Flag Warning that was in effect for the area Sunday is slated to end Monday at 1 p.m., but following that, firefighters will still have to deal with fairly low humidity in the 20s and north winds of 14 gusting to 18.


(Updated at 5:57 p.m. PDT October 7, 2018)

Branscombe Fire
The Branscombe Fire at 5:42 p.m. PDT, October 7, 2018. From ABC7 live video. Click to enlarge.

A fire that broke out Sunday morning east of Fairfield, California had burned approximately 4,500 acres by 5 p.m. according to estimates from firefighters on scene. The Branscombe Fire started near Travis Air Force Base and spread south, crossing Highway 12 which was closed in both directions until about 1 p.m. It is 38 miles northeast of San Francisco and the smoke is spreading into the South Bay area.

The media reported that at least one structure was destroyed based on observations from a news helicopter.

map Branscombe Fire California
Satellite photo showing the location of the Branscombe Fire east of Fairfield, California. The red dots represent heat. Smoke can be seen streaming south.

Live video from a helicopter is occasionally available at ABC7.

At 5:50 p.m. Sunday, judging from the helicopter video, the fire had spread across Cutoff Slough near the intersection of Grizzly Island Road and Joyce Island Road, but had not crossed over the larger Montezuma Slough. Beyond that is the Sacramento River which should serve as a more formidable fire break.

In addition to the firefighters on the ground, aircraft have been working on the fire, including air tankers, helicopters, and dozers.

The fire is burning in a sparsely populated area with few structures.

The area is under a Red Flag Warning until Monday at 1 p.m. On Sunday afternoon a weather station at Travis AFB recorded temperature in the low 80s, relative humidity of 14 percent, and winds out of the north at 20 to 24 mph gusting up to 38 mph. Conditions like that can present a serious challenge to firefighters.

Video of the fire train used on the Delta Fire

firefighting train
A Union Pacific firefighting train on the Delta Fire. Screenshot from footage filmed by Dan Ryant.

Firefighting trains have been around for well over 100 years — the first ones were pulled  by steam locomotives, but you rarely see them since they are used in remote areas near a fire that has limited access by the public. The apparatus usually consists of one or more tank cars that each hold more than 10,000 gallons of water and a high-volume pump that can support a master stream and additional hand-held hose lines.

The concept is to protect the railroad infrastructure, keeping the right of way open for trains. And sometimes the railroad will serve as a fire line — the application of water could keep the fire from crossing to the other side.

The videos below of a Union Pacific firefighting train were shot at the Delta Fire, the 63,000-acre blaze north of Redding, California. The first one is from ABC news, featuring fire photographer Dan Ryant. The one after that is raw footage shot by Mr. Ryant mostly from the top of the train.

Officials release the cause of the Ferguson Fire near Yosemite

Ferguson Fire
Ferguson Fire. Photo uploaded to InciWeb July 15, 2018.

Fire officials in California have released the cause of the Ferguson Fire that burned 96,901 acres of the Sierra National Forest, Stanislaus National Forest, Yosemite National Park, and state lands. They determined that it was caused by a hot catalytic converter on a vehicle that parked in dry grass at 8:30 p.m. Friday, July 13, along eastbound Highway 140 near the Savage Trading Post.

A vehicle associated with the cause has not been located. However, officials are asking anyone with information to contact the Sierra National Forest at (559) 297-0706.

Catalytic converters are part of the exhaust system on the underside of vehicles and can heat up to 1,200 degrees. After a vehicle has been traveling at speed, under a load, or not working properly the catalytic converter can get even hotter. If it is parked over dry grass, it can ignite a fire.

U.S. Forest Service personnel working on the investigation received assistance from the National Park Service and CAL FIRE.

Successful initial attacks in Santa Barbara County

A crew constructs fireline on the Drum Fire September 29, 2018 at Hwy. 246 and Drum Canyon. SBC photo.

The big wildfires that burn homes and thousands of acres are the ones that make the news. We rarely hear about the successful, aggressive initial attacks on new fires that never grow to more than a handful of acres.

On Friday and Saturday of this week firefighters in Santa Barbara County in Southern California squashed two fires, keeping them both to less than three acres.

The credit for these photos goes to Santa Barbara County.  @EliasonMike of SBC distributed them on Twitter.

Drum Fire
Drum Fire, at Hwy. 246 and Drum Canyon, September 29, 2018.
Peak Fire
An S-2T makes a drop on the Peak Fire, Gaviota Peak near Hwy 101/SR-1, September 28, 2018.
Peak Fire
A helicopter makes a drop on the Peak Fire, Gaviota Peak near Hwy 101/SR-1, September 28, 2018.

Five firefighters injured in California rollover crash

Five firefighters were injured when their vehicle crashed on Interstate 5 near Tehama, California Wednesday September 26. Four of them with minor injuries were taken to a hospital in Red Bluff and a fifth with major injuries was transported to St. Elizabeth hospital in Paradise.

firestormThe firefighters were members of a crew operated by Firestorm Wildland Fire Suppression Inc.

According to media reports the northbound truck went off the edge of the highway to the right. As the driver tried to steer it back onto the road, he lost control, went across both northbound lanes, entered the center divider and overturned.

A year ago a truck operated by the same company was involved in another single vehicle rollover accident on Highway 299 near Cedarville, California. In that case the driver tried to avoid hitting a vehicle that had stopped due to a deer being in the road.

This is the 60th article we have posted on Wildfire Today tagged “rollover”.