Out of the ashes of the Painted Cave Volunteer Fire Department has risen the Mountain Ember Team, or MET, a group of rural residents dedicated to fortifying and protecting their Painted Cave community against the next threat.
The department closed its doors earlier this year amid allegations of financial mismanagement by its former chief, who has since sold off the neighborhood’s firefighting equipment to pay his own legal bills. The case is working its way through court, and as it does, explained Nic Proctor, a retired electrician and volunteer captain, he and the other volunteer firefighters have stepped up to fill the public-safety void. “We decided there was definitely still a need to continue what the department was doing,” he said.
That means fuel management and mitigation with tools they’ve scraped together, as well as lessons for homeowners on defensible space and what to do if a fire is bearing down, like removing outside furniture and wood piles. The biggest concern, said Proctor, is embers, hence the name of their group. Their whole function, Proctor went on, is to do what they can to put out spot fires and help with evacuations before the cavalry arrives. “We’re not trying to replace County Fire or the Forest Service,” he said. “Our purpose is to be first responders until the professionals get here. If they ask us to go away, we will. If they ask us to help, we will.”
The Mountain Ember Team officially incorporated as a 501c3 in May and now boasts more than 70 members. It has so far raised $11,000 that will go toward purchasing a portable water tank and pump that can fit in the back of a pickup truck. It’s also received donations of chainsaws and personal protection equipment, but the group still needs a lot of help. A full protective outfit costs around $1,000, Proctor said, and MET would like to provide more trainings on topography, weather patterns, when to attack a fire, and when to not. Because the name of the game, he emphasized, is “safety, safety, safety, safety.” In the meantime, MET has adopted three miles of Painted Cave Road and is partnering with the county’s Transportation Division to keep brush and weeds at bay. It’s also organizing a CERT class in January. To learn more and donate, visit mountainemberteam.com.