Action was tabled but discussions are ongoing with the Oakdale Rural Fire Protection District Board (ORFD) in regards to the current brown out schedule affecting the outlying posts of Valley Home and Knights Ferry with differing opinions on which station should receive the lion’s share of summer staffing.
At the May 19 ORFD board members broached the issue when ORFD Fire Chief Lee Winton expressed his concern toward the vulnerability of the Knights Ferry area as temperatures begin to soar and wildlands turn into tinderboxes of potential fuel.
ORFD board member John Bairos echoed Winton’s concerns and was no less vocal at Tuesday’s meeting, June 14, reiterating that Knights Ferry stands more to lose if a wildland fire cuts loose in the area as the response time from Oakdale to Knights Ferry is 15 to 17 minutes.
Board member Betty Gripenstraw disagreed with Bairos’ assessment that Knights Ferry needed the resources more by pointing out that the two biggest fires, including one that burned 250 acres near Woodward Reservoir on Saturday, June 11, was in the Valley Home area.
“When I look at the Valley Home area, I see a lot of orchards but not a lot of wildland,” Bairos countered. “Division One North — it’s grass, it burns. It’ll grow better next year when it rains.”
Brought into discussion again was the point that while the bigger incidents thus far have been in the Valley Home area, responsibility for coverage within Division One North area is a murky pool of confusion that desperately needs clarification.
In a perfect world, all stations would be open and staffed but that isn’t the case and as Winton said, “hard sacrifices were made.”
Board member Don Armario stated a possible solution that’s been discussed with Oakdale City, saying that if the city reduced staffing at the main station to two instead of three paid personnel, they could open a station that is currently browned out.
Another idea was to put volunteers in with paid personnel to make up for the shortfall, but Winton admitted that idea has been met with resistance by the paid staff for reasons he hasn’t quite figured out yet.
“We’re working on it,” Winton said. “It’s a work in progress.”
In the meantime, the issue of the two outlying stations being browned out as California heads into its official fire season is cause for concern, said Winton.
Even though fire officials have recently stated the fire season looks normal thus far, Winton was quick to point out one essential fact: normal doesn’t mean fire-free.
“California is the most fire-prone state in the world,” Winton reminded the board members. “Normal is not good.”
Chairwoman Sherry Schlegel said, “We know what the problems are — we just have to find solutions.”
Except solutions aren’t readily apparent as budget constraints, operational requirements, and regulations continue to hamper efforts.
The board agreed to table the issue for the next board meeting in the hopes that more information will be forthcoming to help them make an informed choice.
In related news, board members reiterated that there are still open board seats and interested community members should call Supervisor Bill O’Brien’s office for details on how to apply.