Wrapping Up & Coming Home

"Why can't you just put it out?" was a phrase often overheard by Montecito Fire Department engine 391 assigned to the Zaca Fire. Not so easy! With over 229,433 acres burned, the fire ranks as the state's second largest. Equally as large has been the effort to “put it out.”

Over 61 fire crews, 117 engines, 19 copters, 8 air tankers, 29 dozers, and nearly 3,000 personnel, have been dispatched to battle flames often over 300 feet high. Says Captain Bret Koepke of Montecito, "They are doing a great job, still very cohesive." But days have been long, starting at 6 am at the fire, extending to 10 pm, when darkness forces the firefighters to rest.

As the fire moved east, eventually entering Ventura County, Montecito Fire District officials breathed a sigh of relief that their town was no longer directly threatened. Nonetheless, the fire burned on and MFD firefighters are still working to contain it and gaining some valuable lessons in the process (the current four-man crew, headed up by Captain Koepke, is on a 14-day assignment and won’t return until Friday, August 31).

The fire, largely consuming brush in wilderness areas, has not threatened many structures but its fury had been evident from Montecito in the form of occasional billowing 20,000-foot towers of steam and ash.

The remote nature of the fire has largely kept firefighters working in the news background as the immediate threat faded, but there was at least one threat to a Montecito structure, and it was handled innovatively: "We anticipated a backing fire and possible spotting, mixed with extreme fire weather," explained Captain Koepke, “[so] we prepared the house with fireproof wrapping. Essentially the house looks like a baked potato covered in foil wrap," he said, adding that he hoped the technique would not need to be used locally.

The bulk of the Montecito group's time at the fire has been spent working on firing and holding. These efforts revolve around building and defending fire lines and strategically burning land ahead of the fire. On this day, with engine 391, most of the fire seemed behind them as they worked to contain the flames.

Holding the line, and wrapping it up, it appears that Montecito has weathered the worst of the Zaca Fire, thanks, at least in part, to the work of Montecito Fire Department firefighters.

If you log on to: http://web.mac.com/insande/iWeb/Site3/Welcome.html you’ll find Mr. Richardson’s interview with Captain Koepke and more fire photos.