Members of the Coconino County Amateur Radio Club (CARC) in Arizona activated on July 21 as winds accelerated the Museum Fire beyond 50 acres, triggering the activation of the county’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC). Members of the club, many of them ARES volunteers, staffed the EOC. The fire appears to have been named for its proximity to the Museum of Northern Arizona and the Arizona Historical Society Pioneer Museum.
“The club has a great working relationship with Coconino County,” said CARC’s Public Information Officer Dan Shearer, N7YIQ. “CARC’s ARES component has a dedicated position in the EOC structure and has assisted on many incidents over the last few years, providing communications to field personnel when cell and radio coverage is limited or nonexistent.”
Shearer said Amateur Radio equipment and antennas are stored at the EOC, and CARC members have been trained to set it up and have everything operational within an hour of activation.
The fire, of undetermined origin, soon grew larger than 500 acres and became a top fire-fighting priority. A Type 1 incident management team took over management of the fire-fighting effort late on July 22, and more than 12 Hotshot crews (teams highly trained in all aspects of fire management), fire engines, water tenders, and aircraft were engaged in suppressing the blaze. Residents in some neighborhoods were ordered to evacuate, although no homes and structures were lost. There were fears that the fire might overrun communications sites on Mount Elden, which include public service, private, and Amateur Radio repeaters.
“The loss of one or both of these complexes would have been catastrophic,” Shearer said. CARC members were prepared for the risk and quickly assembled spare equipment, including extra radios and repeaters.
Air tankers dropped many loads of fire retardant around the repeater sites, and the exceptional work of the fire crews prevented the fire from running up the slopes to the complexes, Shearer said.
A midweek change in the weather with substantial rain gave firefighters a chance to keep the blaze from crossing a fire line they were able to construct. ARES resources were released on July 26 and placed on standby as the fire risk was substantially reduced.
Shearer said there is now a risk of flash flooding across the burned-over areas from the region’s summer rainy period, and the City of Flagstaff and Coconino County are providing sandbags.
The Coconino Amateur Radio Club is an ARRL affiliated club with about 50 members. It has a large ARES component that regularly trains and conducts SKYWARN and ARES nets weekly.
“CARC personnel provided well over 250 hours in support of the Museum Fire in direct support of the joint EOC,” Shearer said, adding that the EOC team and Arizona Governor Doug Ducey expressed their appreciation when the governor visited the fire operations.
The Museum Fire eventually covered nearly 2,000 acres and, as of August 5, was considered 93% contained.
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