IMPORTANT NEWS

NIGHTSKY FIRE REPORTS
OCTOBER 22, 2007

By Jim Fortney

The following reports were distributed on the SantaRosaValley Announcements List.

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The fire which started in Lexington Hills near Nightsky Drive was a major threat to the residents of the Santa Rosa Valley, and the threat is not over.

Fanned by winds that have been clocked at up to 80 MPH, this fire was pushed West and South toward our Valley. Three times during the day, the Ventura County Fire Department thought they had it contained, only to have the winds prove them wrong. In each instance, to this observer it was clearly the air support that made all the difference. I was involved much of the day in traffic and crowd control, and was very close to what was happening.

One of the early breakouts was an advance up the hill toward the East end of Presilla. The crews on the ground provided structure protection, but the key to stopping the advance up the hill was water drops from two aircraft that repeatedly navigated the hilly terrain. They made very low level drops that were amazingly accurate despite the high winds.

No sooner had the advance up the hill been stopped, when the fire made a run toward the North side of Presilla. If the fire had made it past the ridge it would have been into homes in Moorpark and free to burn West into the equestrian homes off Prescilla. The County's helicopter force who had been guiding the aircraft drops, began their own assault and prevented the fire from moving in that direction.

Two other significant instances of the wind increasing and blowing embers into unburned areas occurred in the later afternoon. The aircraft supporting this fire had been re-assigned to one of the several other fires. Despite every effort to stand in the way of the fire, the ground units once again were being overrun and called for air support. One outbreak ran up the hill toward Presilla again actually igniting the roof of a home. The water dropping helicopters arrived just in time to do their magic and stop that advance. The second move was towards the Highlands and into Spook Canyon. It that fire wasn't stopped, it would clearly have moved into the Arroyo and burned into the Valley. The two helicopters involved were utilizing a designated "port" on an empty lot on Barranca, and were able to make drops at intervals of less than 10 minutes each. I lost count of the dozens of cycles they completed before nightfall. Their efforts, and those of several camp crews, were what allowed the Fire Department to declare containment at days end.

Everyone needs to be careful though to understand that containment is not the same as control. The wind has not stopped, and the embers will continue to be fanned as long as that is the case. The County has scheduled heavy staffing throughout the night tonight in an attempt to watch all the hot spots. The greatest difficulty in putting the fire down today appeared to be the steep and heavily brushed canyon of the Arroyo. This canyon running through Rancho Santa Rosa continues to be the area of most concern. Residents that back up to the Arroyo should be especially alert until 100% control is declared.

In addition to recognizing the heroic efforts of the Ventura County Fire Department and California Division of Forestry crews who have been working so hard for us, I would like to say Thank You to the many cooperative and friendly residents I encountered today when I was blocking your street. I enjoyed meeting so many of you and appreciate your understanding of the circumstances.

Clearly this event demonstrated the importance of the CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) organizational efforts being promoted by the Santa Rosa Valley MAC. I encourage everyone to participate. Contact Rosemary Allison for more information.

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The Ventura County Fire Department declared the Nightsky Fire fully controlled this morning (Monday, October 22, 2007) at 10 AM. The efforts of the night time crews were successful in preventing any major flare-ups despite very strong winds over night. Despite all the media reports, the fire never entered the Santa Rosa Valley and was restricted to about 35 acres of Lexington Hills and the extreme western slopes of the Tierra Rejada Valley. We only need to listen to the reports of the other fires in Southern California to appreciate how fortunate we have been.

To clarify a comment I made in yesterday's report, I only stated that the Arroyo where the fire could advance was the one going through Rancho Santa Rosa. I did not mean to imply that the fire was in the Rancho at that time. I'm sorry if I created undo concern for some.

The issue that the winds might stir up remaining embers is still very real and everyone needs to be diligent until the winds stop and the humidity gets back to normal. Obviously the greatest chance of igniting a new fire is from local embers, but with so many fires close to us the opportunity for an ember to come from farther away also exists. Both the Ranch Fire (above Piru) and the new Stevenson Ranch Fire are blowing embers our way.

The Fire Department returned to Lexington Hills several times today as a result of new smoke sightings, and on a review of that area around 3:30 PM, I actually found an area of fire that was being re-kindled in the wood chips by the winds. Please keep your eyes open, the threat is not over.


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Page revised: October 22, 2007