Amateur Radio has been standing by on several fronts during the Woolsey Fire that swept through the westernmost portion of Los Angeles County, including Malibu, and the easternmost area of Ventura County in the ARRL Santa Barbara Section. The fires have required the evacuation of more than 200,000 Los Angeles County residents — an unprecedented amount in recent decades. Evacuees included several celebrities, several of whom lost homes in the fire. Nearly 50 people have died.
“Nevertheless, governmental radio systems used by fire and sheriff held up well, even though cell phone and internet service went out in many fire areas because of burned utility poles,” Los Angeles Section Manager Diana Feinberg, AI6DF. “Evacuees went to areas where cell phone service was generally available.”
Feinberg said Los Angeles ARES (ARES LAX) has not been activated because no county hospitals are in the affected area and no hospital outside the fire zone was in danger of losing communication. She added, though, that a sizable team of ARES LAX operators organized by LAX-Northwest District Emergency Coordinator Roozy Moabery, W1EH, did extensive logistics work over the November 10 – 11 weekend at a major drop-off site in the San Fernando Valley for evacuee supplies. ARES team members worked with other volunteers to accept nearly 10 tons of pet food, plus thousands of boxes of items such as soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, conditioner, razors, lotion, feminine products, and sunscreen, as well as baby food, formula, diapers, and wipes, towels and bedding, snacks, and non-perishable food items, Feinberg said.
On the air for the Woolsey Fire, both the Los Angeles County Disaster Communications Service (DCS) — Amateur Radio volunteers overseen by the Sheriff’s Department — and the City of Los Angeles Fire Department Auxiliary Communication Service (ACS) operated nets and monitored their respective frequencies. “The DCS group at Lost Hills Sheriff Station covers most of the Los Angeles County areas affected by the Woolsey Fire and communicated with organized amateurs in the cities of Calabasas, Agoura Hills, Hidden Hills, Malibu, Westlake Village, and unincorporated mountain areas when not affected by respective mandatory evacuation orders,” Feinberg said. “The City of Los Angeles’ ACS group was involved when the city’s West Hills neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley became the fire’s northeastern front, forcing about half the West Hills community to evacuate.”
Feinberg said ACS members have also been involved with delivering food and water supplies to LAFD firefighters and performing fire patrols. American Red Cross volunteers are reported to be using Amateur Radio in connection with some of their fire response activities, Feinberg reported. The Woolsey Fire covers nearly 100,000 acres and was reported 36% contained as of November 13.
ARES members in the Los Angeles and other ARRL California Sections will be heavily involved on Thursday, November 15, during the 2018 California Statewide Healthcare and Medical Exercise. ARES LAX plans to operate from most of the 73 hospitals in Los Angeles County that have emergency rooms, as well as at the county’s Medical Alert Center that coordinates hospital bed availability.
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