Pixel Tracker

Friday, March 22 , 2019, 8:10 am | Fair 44º

 
 
 
 
Emergency Preparedness 2018

California Conservation Corps Always Ready to Respond to Disasters at Moment’s Notice

Crews played pivotal support roles during response, cleanup and recovery for Thomas Fire and deadly Montecito flash flooding and debris flows

California Conservation Corps members hand out bottles of water in Montecito’s Upper Village on Jan. 11, two days after the deadly flash flooding and debris flows. (Urban Hikers / Noozhawk file photo) Click to view larger
California Conservation Corps members hand out bottles of water in Montecito’s Upper Village on Jan. 11, two days after the deadly flash flooding and debris flows. (Urban Hikers / Noozhawk file photo)

From earthquakes to insect infestations to fires and floods, the California Conservation Corps is prepared to respond to disasters statewide at a moment’s notice.

The cadre of young men and women are trained to assist with natural disasters throughout the Golden State and dispatched with a single telephone call to one of the agency’s many field offices, as was evidenced in December when the Thomas Fire ignited in nearby Ventura County, quickly spreading into Santa Barbara County.

Men and women, ages 18 to 25, can sign up for a year of service with the California Conservation Corps and are paid $1,900 a month for their work.

During that year, the men and women learn life and job skills, while working on environmental projects and responding to natural and man-made disasters. The agency’s motto is, “Hard work, low pay, miserable conditions and more!”

Crews from the agency’s Camarillo and Butte offices — two from Camarillo and one from Butte for a total of 41 individuals — were immediately sent to the Thomas Fire, where they worked on fire line construction, CCC public information officer Dana Howard said.

“They were digging and scraping ... to stop the the fire from advancing,” he said.

The Thomas Fire sparked on Dec. 4, 2017, north of Santa Paula near Thomas Aquinas College, and grew to become the largest wildfire in California’s recorded history, scorching 281,893 acres and damaging more than 1,000 homes.

The Camarillo office sent additional members to establish and staff a delivery camp, where they served the hundreds and then thousands of first responders battling the wildfire, Howard said.

Corps members were responsible for organizing equipment, handing out food and distributing supplies. The crews also constructed roads and conducted traffic control inside the camp, as well as developed signage, according to agency officials.

“We are kind of the bread and butter of the thing,” CCC Los Padres District director Mike Anderson said about the corps’ typical role at a fire camp. “We don’t run the thing, but we get everything done.”

The Los Padres District includes the cities of Santa Maria and San Luis Obispo, Anderson said. That office has just 15 members, but still responded to the two natural disasters on the South Coast, he said.

California Conservation Corps crews help clean Highway 101 medians in Montecito following the deadly flash flooding and debris flows, as Caltrans worked to reopen the mud-covered roadway. (California Conservation Corps photo) Click to view larger
California Conservation Corps crews help clean Highway 101 medians in Montecito following the deadly flash flooding and debris flows, as Caltrans worked to reopen the mud-covered roadway. (California Conservation Corps photo)

At the height of the Thomas Fire, the Conservation Corps had 348 members from throughout the state stationed at the incident. Crews slept in tents at the fire camp, from Dec. 5 through Jan. 8, Howard said.

“It was such a major incident and base support kept expanding,” he noted.

The Conservation Corps is called to incidents via the governor through the state Office of Emergency Services, and district directors don’t get to say “no” when the phone rings for assistance.

“We are a state agency ... and we are available,” Anderson explained.

“We have to stop whatever we are doing and go. Wherever we go, there is an emergency. Wherever we go, we are needed.”

Conservation Corps crews were released from the Thomas Fire incident Jan. 8 — a day before the deadly and devastating flash flooding and debris flows in Montecito.

Members from the Camarillo office, as well as Santa Maria and San Luis Obispo, were sent back to the South Coast on Jan. 10 to help hand out drinking water in the mud-ravaged community.

“There wasn’t a break,” Howard said about corps members being sent to Santa Barbara County for emergency response after the initial debris flows on Jan. 9. “It kept getting worse.”

Several of the CCC members who responded to Montecito, who also grew up in the area, relayed to Howard the raw humanity of what they witnessed — a judge’s gavel, a baby’s toy, a car, food — as they cleared dirt, mud and debris from a section of Highway 101, Howard said.

“They were startled,” he said. “(The mud) was higher than they ever could have imagined. The evidence was right there in front of them. It hit them.”

Crews also assisted CalFire and Caltrans in February and March with debris removal and flood prevention in Montecito, Howard added.

The California Conservation Corps was established on July 7, 1976.

Noozhawk contributing writer April Charlton can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

Support Noozhawk Today!

Our professional journalists work tirelessly to report on local news so you can be more informed and engaged in your community. This quality, local reporting is free for you to read and share, but it's not free to produce.

You count on us to deliver timely, relevant local news, 24/7. Can we count on you to invest in our newsroom and help secure its future?

We provide special member benefits to show how much we appreciate your support.

Email
I would like give...
Great! You're joining as a Red-Tailed Hawk!
  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to news[email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.