Fire Chief Tim Shackelford said residents standing in the brush taking pictures and people driving up and down the streets to watch the Star Fire in Chino Hills slowed down fire units and created potential safety hazards when the blaze was at its height on July 28.
The wildfire was caused when a large bird encountered two power lines, became electrocuted, and fell to the ground on fire, he said. It burned the home of Arthur and Toni Forrest on Miramonte Court near La Sierra Drive.
Chief Shackelford provided a rundown of the 156-acre blaze to the Chino Hills City Council Tuesday, the Chino Valley Fire Board Wednesday, and the Carbon Canyon Fire Safe Council last week.
“I encourage residents who don’t live in the area to stay away,” he said. The hilly topography of the neighborhood and heavy traffic created challenges for fire personnel.
He said it’s very unsafe to stand in the brush because fire conditions can change rapidly. “That’s called fuel,” he said of the brush. “It burns.”
Many residents were walking around the brush in shorts and flip-flops during the fire, he added.
Cal Fire’s cost to fight the fire was in excess of $300,000, the chief said. That cost doesn’t include the Chino Valley Fire Department’s costs and other agencies that assisted.
The City of Chino Hills has an agreement with the Chino Valley Fire District which contracts with Cal Fire for wildland fire protection of 12,257 acres in the city, including 4,000 acres in the the Chino Hills State Park, said city spokesperson Denise Cattern.
The city paid $131,804 for that contract in fiscal year 2018-19, Mrs. Cattern said.
“I was very happy to realize that the neighborhood was in the Cal Fire contract area because they bring the checkbook,” Chief Shackelford said.
Location and attic
He said the Forrest house caught on fire when embers entered the attic.
When crews arrived, the attic was fully involved and the house could not be saved, he said.
If the attic vents had screens, it probably would have prevented embers from entering the house, the chief added. He advised residents with attic vents to install screens.
The placement of the home at the edge of the open space was another factor because of the “chimney” effect, where the topography draws the fire up to the top of the slope, said the chief.
At the time of the incident, the wind was strong, blowing from the west, and the home was in direct alignment, at the top of the “chimney” with the wind pushing the fire in that direction.
The distance from the slope to the home was 25 to 30 feet, he said.
Weeds and water
Weed abatement was completed just two weeks before the fire in the open space adjacent to the homes so the clearance was good, he said, advising residents to clear flammable vegetation around their homes to create defensible space.
There was a brief decrease in water pressure due to numerous fire engines being connected to the fire hydrants and homeowners using garden hoses at the same time.
“The water system functioned as it should have,” he said. “There was not a problem with the system.”
He thanked residents who supplied ice chests with cold water when some of the units ran out of bottled drinking water.