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      photos of firefighter and maps

      Sierra Madre Fire Captain Rich Snyder (Photos – Jean Sudbury)

      The San Gabriel Mountains were ablaze with wildfire.

      By Jean Sudbury

      Starting September 6, in Sierra Madre, Monrovia and Arcadia we felt the heat, saw the fire and breathed the smoke. We saw flames in the hills above us. Although fires are disastrous for homeowners and animals in the areas, firefighters take them as a challenge to do what they have been trained to do. Skilled teams work in synchronicity to keep the fires somewhat in control. Elements of nature are involved, and these are fickle components in the plans to stave off the fires. Wind and humidity levels affect the directions and progress of the fires, as wildfires can change wind directions and affect heat and humidity levels.

      Seventeen days into the fire, it has moved northwest, and it is possible that it will be fully contained by the end of October. The canyon neighborhoods of Sierra Madre, Pasadena, Altadena, Monrovia, and Arcadia are no longer under evacuation alerts. The Mount Wilson Observatory was saved from the fire, as was the Pack Station in Chantry Flats. Crews are still working to control the blaze fully.

      Sierra Madre Force

      Since the Bobcat Fire began, each member of the Sierra Madre fire service has put in 60-75 hours to control this massive fire, the biggest one Sierra Madre has experienced in 60 years. During the first three days of the fire, the fire service was on duty 24 hours a day. Since the beginning of the fire on September 6, the fire service has used water tenders and Phos-Chek, a fire retardant; these elements were transported by air and by Sierra Madre fire service ground transportation. (A water tender is a two-person vehicle used to transport water to the site of the fire to help keep the fire from spreading). Ground transportation of Phos -Chek is a new thing for municipal fire departments, and Sierra Madre is the only fire service that has used it. On the ground, firefighters stomped paths around contained areas of fire to help stop the spread. The Sierra Madre fire service teamed up with Monrovia and Arcadia firefighters to create a unified command, working with L.A. County and the U.S. Forest Service.

      Rich Snyder, Fire Marshall 1 L, and Station Captain of the Sierra Madre fire service has been working for the Sierra Madre Fire Department for 34 years. His eyes beamed with pride when he spoke of firefifghters, the teamwork, and planning used to fight fires:

      When a fire happens, they are ready. This is their job.

      a fire truck in a station

      Sierra Madre Fire Department (Photo – Jean Sudbury)


      Teamwork is one of the greatest components of successful firefighting. The firefighting teams work together to plan for such a disastrous occurrence, and they take the challenge of firefighting very seriously. They examine contingency, evacuation plans and resources for citizens of local areas, with plan A, B, and maybe C in place.

      News sites like ColoradoBoulevard.net and social media sites such as Nixle kept local people informed on the spread of the fire and evacuation watch updates. The City of Sierra Madre hosted Zoom meetings from City Hall, during which they shared maps showing the progress of the fire. Daily updated printed maps and information are still on public display in front of the Sierra Madre Fire Department. The City’s finance department kept records of the firefighting expenses, the City’s public works department made sure there is enough water available in the basins for the water tenders to do their job, and the City’s police department provided roadblocks and helped to organize evacuations and evacuation centers. Decision points and trigger points were analyzed to keep the panic level low in the local neighborhoods. The entire staff of the City worked together as a team. As of September 29, the fire was 62% contained. Thankfully, the elements of nature are not interfering with the progress of the fire force. During the first days of the fire, 60 m.p.h. winds were forecast; luckily, the winds never came. We thank the unified response of the firefighters and City officials in these difficult times.

      Drive-Thru Fire Prevention Festival

      On Saturday, October 10, 2020, from 9:00 am to 12:00 pm, the Sierra Madre Fire Department, in conjunction with Sierra Madre City Hall, will present a drive-thru prevention festival. Participants can enter the City Hall parking lot from Mariposa Avenue, one block south of Sierra Madre Blvd. Each car will receive emergency prevention and preparedness material from local participating agencies. Children are encouraged to attend to receive a special SMFD gift bag. All participants must remain in their vehicles and wear masks.

      a flyer for fire prevention in sierra madre

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