Following two dry winters, the local Rancho Adobe Fire Protection District prepares to defend Penngrove and surrounding areas from the 2021 fire season that starts earlier and ends later every year.
Especially with the recent fires sparking up in Sonoma County, local fire stations require the foresight to ensure their preparedness.
“We’ve already had half a dozen fires of some significance in the county just in the last week or two,” said Mike Weihman, a battalion chief with Rancho Adobe Fire Protection District.
The Rancho Adobe Fire Protection District defends nearly 86 square miles, including about 28,000 residents — with stations covering Penngrove, Rohnert Park and unincorporated Petaluma. The station at 11000 Main St. in Penngrove is charged to cover the most expansive space, stretching into the eastern hills of Sonoma County.
Rancho Adobe Fire is currently wrapping up its annual training process to refresh all its firefighters with proper technique, according to Weihman.
“Obviously, we recognize that the last five years have been really intense, especially locally. So, we just have to make sure that our equipment stays in service, and we're trying to get our annual maintenance done well in advance of June when things start getting going,” he said.
Weihman says he doesn’t think any district can be fully ready for a massive wildfire like the county has seen in recent years but still prepares the best they can.
“I think our district is better prepared than many you know; we were good at our training, we have decent equipment and]we have a lot of dedicated employees who will come in, even if they're not on duty,” Weihman said.
The battalion chief recalled the Tubbs Fire in October 2017, which decimated neighborhoods in Santa Rosa.
"We got nine engines out into the county, even though we normally staffed only three, and that makes a big difference getting just the number of pieces of equipment out there to help. But it was so overwhelming. The certain fires like that, once they get going, there's almost no stopping them. Nearly all you can do is get people out of harm's way,” Weihman said.
With fire conditions only worsening in the last two years, the odds may be stacked against small fire departments.
“Drought would be one of the big factors. It's always you know, ‘When do we get to what we call season-ending rains or at least the season slowing rain event?’ Now this, the last two winters, it essentially didn't rain,” said Ryan Walbrun, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service.
The county got 10 to 15 inches less rain than it typically would, providing a lot of dry fuel in the area, according to Walbrun.
To combat these dangerous fire conditions, Weihman is adamant that locals need to help out to reduce fuels and prevent ignition.
“These fires can't burn unless A: there's fuel for them. And then B: there's a spark,” he said.
Weihman encouraged individual houses and neighborhoods to create buffers between them and fuel by removing vegetation. He said residents can be vigilant not to mow their lawns on hot days, not to drag chains and to be extra careful with cigarettes to prevent sparks.
On June 1, Rancho Adobe Fire will also be initiating its annual vegetation enforcement where they inspect properties and cite those who have not removed hazardous vegetation that is fuel for wildfires.
Evacuation tags — which residents can place on their homes in case of a fire, letting first responders know not to search their homes —can be picked up at the Rancho Adobe Fire Protection District stations.