It’s only July so local fire officials certainly can’t breathe easy yet. But so far, there haven’t been any major fires of note in the region due to high temperatures, low humidity and plenty of fuel.
“We are coming up on a hot spell, that is always a concern,” said Escalon Consolidated Fire Protection District Chief Rick Mello.
Temperatures in the low 100s and upper 90s are forecast for the next several days.
“Fourth of July proved to be pretty calm, which was good,” the chief added.
Escalon Fire Department was on alert with a special countywide response team for the holiday, ready to roll at a moment’s notice in case of fire – whether it was sparked by a campfire or illegal fireworks – but did not have to respond to any incidents outside the city.
Weed abatement efforts in late spring and early summer went fairly well, Mello added, with many residents adhering to the rules governing the cutting back of weeds and clearing away of debris to allow for some defensible space.
“There are still some that came in late, we got a lot of late complaints so we are working on them,” Mello said of addressing lingering concerns with the abatement program.
For the department overall, however, it has been a quiet summer to date. No Escalon firefighters have been sent out on a countywide strike team to battle wildfires around the state.
“The county has sent five strike teams out but we haven’t gone on any,” the chief said. “But it is only July and it has been that active (statewide) already.”
At presstime on Tuesday, a water tender from Escalon was being dispatched to assist CalFire on a vegetation fire in the Milton Road area of Stanislaus County.
Last year, a major wildfire that burned on both sides of the McHenry River bridge spanning San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties destroyed several buildings and required response from multiple agencies, along with an aerial attack. Mello said much of the vegetation that burned out last year has already grown back, so that area is still susceptible.
“We did a lot more weed abatement around that River Road area, those are all taken care of,” he said of working with residents to maintain the defensible space. “We did as much as we could with the people on our side of the river.”
Ironically, the water itself can be another problem for the fire department in the summer. Those utilizing the Stanislaus River for recreational purposes often find themselves in need of help, and the fire department is among the first responders.
“We have had a water rescue already, that’s pretty common this time of year,” Mello explained. “It was west of McHenry and we ended up retrieving them from the shore.”
In many cases, Mello said, with the river flow at a low level, boaters have to get out of their craft and walk, putting them behind schedule for arrival and setting off the search for potential ‘lost’ boaters. Others end up using boats, rafts or inner tubes and inadvertently go past where they intended to get out of the river, which can also lead to a search effort.
Weekends bring out the most recreational water users and Mello said U.S. Army Corps of Engineers parks along the river, including the McHenry Avenue Recreation Area, offer the free loaner life jackets. He said the program is a very good one and has been effective in helping keep river rafters safe. Several people took advantage of the loaner program over the July 4 holiday weekend, officials said.