Ground forces on Monday morning began a massive effort to establish a containment line from the head of Las Llagas Canyon to the ridge separating El Capitan and Gato canyons.
Ray Ford

With news this morning that expected sundowner winds did not appear last night, engine crews and CAL FIRE ground forces began preparing for a massive effort to establish a containment line from the head of Las Llagas Canyon north to the ridge separating El Capitan and Gato canyons along a section of the Bill Wallace Trail.

Weather conditions on the ridge were already severe, with temperatures already in the mid-80s before 8 a.m. In the distance, smoke from a column or two was building about halfway to the crest. Several large helicopters were dousing them with water. Another dropped retardant on the upper edge of the more active fire. Neither one appear to be threatening at the moment.

After a short briefing, several hundred hand-crews slowly made their way up the hill. Their orange Nomexs were a stark contrast to the burnt hillsides. Establishing containment is a dirty business on dozer lines choked with ankle-deep dust. It will be the hand crews’ job to seek out any hot spots, put them out where they can, and call in the engine crews to cool them down when they can’t.

Nearby on a wide-open knoll, preparation was made to put together a water system that would pump the water uphill to those hot spots and, if needed, provide a safety cushion should there be a flare-up further up the line. There are two large portable water tanks, each holding 500 gallons, set up on the knoll. They connect to a small generator, which will pump the water out of the tanks and over to one of the large fire engines that will in turn pump it up the hose lines to the ground crews. This line will stretch uphill, downhill, and uphill again for several thousand feet, bringing the water as far as it’s needed.

Above the knoll, additional engine crews are stationed along the way. Each is responsible for hose lays along a section of the overall line. The hoses are 100 feet long, with quick connectors set up at each end that allow the crews to add smaller lateral lines to use in wetting down the hot spots. When the line is pressurized, it can be transported as much as a half mile with little drop in pressure.

Given the number of hand crews, containment for the first three-fourths mile from my vantage point north to where the Bill Wallace Trail turns west and drops steeply down into El Capitan Canyon could be completed early in the day. North of this point brings additional difficulties, because the terrain begins to steepen and the dozers may not be able to cut lines much further up the hill. In that case, the hot shot crews from Los Padres Forest, Vandenberg, Ventura, Big Bear, Little Tujunga, and others will take over, cutting an 8- to 10-foot line through the brush and clearing down to mineral soil.

This may take most of the week to complete, but this morning things on the fire line were looking good. Today could be the turning point.

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