Ready for wildfire: Nevada-Yuba-Placer hand crews conduct annual preparedness exercises (PHOTO GALLERY)

A total of seven local hand crews, including the 19-person California National Guard crew 23 (pictured), took part in their annual preparedness exercises Wednesday along different parts of Reader Ranch on the San Juan Ridge. Crews were checked on their safety and procedures, involving tool out, cutting line, shelter deployment, and a 4.1-mile hike.
Photo: Elias Funez

“Improve your position within the fire shelter,” Northern Region Liaison Chief Rock Redding said to the members of California National Guard hand crew 23, whose faces lie in the dirt of Reader Ranch on the San Juan Ridge.

The 19-person hand crew, now in its second year operating as an initial fire suppression crew in the Nevada-Yuba-Placer Unit, is going through a simulation where a wildfire is approaching and it must quickly deploy emergency fire shelters.

“You’re going to be fighting the entire time,” Redding says to the crew as they adjust themselves under the green-and-orange practice shelters before reminding them that an air tanker drop is on the way.

A California Conservation Corps hand crew makes its way toward the end of the 4.1-mile hiking course on Reader Ranch, part of the annual preparedness exercises conducted Wednesday. A total of seven local hand crews went through the exercises.
Photo: Elias Funez

Deploying an emergency fire shelter is usually a wildland firefighter’s last line of defense.

On Wednesday, seven local hand crews demonstrated their knowledge of this procedure and others, including tool out, cutting line, and a 4.1-mile hike into the drainage off Birchville Road.

The annual crew preparedness exercises are required of each hand crew in the state.

Northern Region Liaison Chief Rock Redding inspects CNA crew 23’s fire shelter deployment and tells firefighters inside to improve their position within the shelter. “You’re going to be fighting the entire time,” Redding said.
Photo: Elias Funez

“Footing!” one firefighter at the head of CNA crew 23 yells out to warn the following members of the crew of uneven footing in the trail during the hike.

“Footing!” the following firefighters yell out. “Rattlesnake!” the first firefighter yells out again, with the rest calling out and pointing to the spot where the hazard was spotted as they pass.

Reader Ranch off Birchville Road on the San Juan Ridge has been the site of the Nevada-Yuba-Placer Unit’s annual preparedness exercises. Wednesday’s firefighter presence was larger than previous years as hand crews from the Tahoe area, California Conservation Corps, and California National Guard joined Washington Ridge and Grass Valley hand crews.
Photo: Elias Funez

Along the way Cal Fire officials watch and take notes on each crew, make sure the hikes are done in a timely manner, and ensure that hand line crews are operating safely.

“These traditionally were steered toward our inmate firefighter camps,” Nevada-Yuba-Placer Unit Fire Chief Brian Estes said during Wednesday’s exercises.

Cal Fire Nevada-Yuba-Placer Unit Fire Chief Brian Estes takes some time to talk with officials from Nevada County’s executive office, as well as Nevada City officials during Wednesday morning’s crew preparedness exercises on Reader Ranch on the San Juan Ridge.
Photo: Elias Funez

“But as our inmate numbers have depleted a bit, we have entered into agreements with a multitude of agencies.”

Joining Washington Ridge inmate hand crew 1 on Wednesday at Reader Ranch was California National Guard crew 23 out of Nevada City, California Conservation Corps crews out of the Tahoe and Stockton areas, Grass Valley, and two Placer hand crews.

The pastures of Reader Ranch, whose origins date back to the Gold Rush, had become overgrown with manzanita and brush over the years, making the property a prime candidate for Cal Fire’s fuel reduction exercises.

California National Guard crew 23 stationed out of Station 20 in Nevada City take a break after the 4.1-mile hike.
Photo: Elias Funez

Fuel reduction on the Reader Ranch property also helps provide wildfire protection for the communities of North San Juan, as well as the Yuba River drainage.

“We’re trying to convert a lot of this brush back into grazing land so that he can graze cattle,” Estes said of Reader’s ranchers.

“It’s good for erosion and runoff into the Yuba River drainage, it keeps filtration good and clean to the river, and it’s a great training environment for us,” Estes said.

California National Guard hand crew 23 demonstrate its emergency fire shelter deployment with green-and-orange practice units designed to be used multiple times.
Photo: Elias Funez

To contact Multimedia Reporter Elias Funez, email or call 530-477-4230

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