Preventing wildfire while also fighting heat stroke

A massive East Bay brush clearing project goes on daily despite scorching temperatures crews face.

We went up on Wildcat Canyon Road near Orinda with what the crews must do whether clearing brush, or facing a wall of fire.

Heat wave or not, a consortium of 12 East Bay fire, utility, park and conservation agencies is racing to clear tinder dry brush and vegetation from under trees along a 17-mile corridor from Berkeley to Lafayette.

Today, it was so hot, it would have been dangerous for crews to wear traditional firefighting gear, used mostly to protect from briars, sticks and other cutting dangers.

"We're still maintaining safety. We're having them work in a long sleeved t-shirts, so just to give them a little more ability to maintain their temperature," said project manager Jim Call of the Moraga-Orinda Fire District.

Maintaining body temperature is crucial when heat stroke is a real danger.

"We go over work versus rest cycles. So, we want to increase our rest cycles when the heat goes up," said Call.

There are also designated shade areas for cooling where water hydration stations are always stocked.

Air conditioned trucks are ready to help with cooling as well.

Weather in the immediate area is measured hourly.

"We check it every hour, and we have planned activity level when the relative humidity hit a certain level and when winds hit a certain level we stop work," says Call.

During intense heat, all-terrain vehicles with 40 gallons of water stand by, each crew also has firefighting tools should that crew spark a fire.

One area which had already been cleared of decades, if not generations of low-lying debris, brush and other things that can easily catch fire.

But, with leaves and wood chips on the ground, could it still catch fire? Yes, but, it's not tall enough to send flames up into those trees where a real forest fire can start and the embers from those trees can be blown ahead for miles and miles.

You see, during heat wave wildfires, the heat danger to firefighters is far greater.

"Because on days like today, when you're in that turn out gear, it is brutal, you know, you're just dripping sweat. Your tun out boots actually fill with sweat. You're losing so much fluid. Now, you add to that physical activity of pulling hose lines and the heat of the fire, it increases tremendously," said Call.

This massive project should be done by early fall before the highest fire danger present themselves.