As the weather warms up, summer is on many people’s minds. The usual feelings of excitement are there, as are the pangs of worry – especially in Vacaville, where the fire at the LNU Lightning Complex remains a fresh memory.

The Vacaville Fire Department is currently working to ensure its firefighters are equipped to mitigate these threats. On Tuesday, they gained more than just hands-on experience: they put out a controlled fire atop Callen Hill.

Firefighters took part in the first of three scheduled training exercises, where crews burned brush along the north hill and used techniques to put out the fire. Three sessions were scheduled throughout the day, consisting of full-time firefighters as well as trainees from the Explorers program.

Captain Matt Moreno said it was a multi-faceted exercise. Not only does it provide firefighters with the skills they would need during a real fire, but it also burns debris that could start a dangerous fire during fire season.

“We’re reducing fuels to target hazards, but we’re also gaining experience and refreshing some skills,” he said.

Historically, Moreno said, Callen Hill was a site that burned nearly every year, usually as a result of people setting off unauthorized Fourth of July fireworks. Located between Brown Street and the intersection of Browns Valley Parkway and Allison Drive, the hill is close to many homes and businesses as well as the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Markham Elementary School. If the hill ever caught fire, it would threaten a lot of real estate.

A Vacaville Fire Department firefighter launches an attack as flames consume dry grass during a mobile attack drill Tuesday on Callen Hill in Vacaville. The mobile attack formation consists of firefighters using a hose to suppress a line of fire while an engine follows closely behind at a slow pace to ensure the fire along the flank is extinguished. (Joel Rosenbaum/The Reporter)

Callen Hill remains a site for live-fire training scenarios to reduce fuel that would otherwise start a fire on dangerously hot days.

Moreno said the exercise is usually done around May, when the vegetation is starting to dry out but it’s not too hot. The weather Tuesday was cool and cool with little to no wind, which was optimal for putting out the fires.

He also ensured that the training was going on safely.

“We’re not in too much danger of losing the fire,” he said. “We have these control lines in place with the bulldozer track so we can keep the fire to a minimum, just for a few old bits to get some experience.”

Moreno also said firefighters won’t burn too much grass at once so as not to inconvenience nearby residents.

Tuesday morning’s exercise was mobile attack training, which involves firefighters using a hose to suppress a line of fire while an engine closely follows at a slow pace to ensure the fire along the flank is off. As part of the training, fires were started with a drip torch along the main trail for other firefighters to put out.

Waves of heat are projected from the flames of a practice burn performed by firefighters from the Vacaville Fire Department during a live-fire training exercise Tuesday on Callen Hill in Vacaville.  (Joel Rosenbaum/The Reporter)
Waves of heat are projected from the flames of a practice burn performed by firefighters from the Vacaville Fire Department during a live-fire training exercise Tuesday on Callen Hill in Vacaville. (Joel Rosenbaum/The Reporter)

Another exercise involved scratching a line to create fire barriers and dropping water to keep the ground moist and prevent flames from breaking through.

At one point, a plaza was placed on the side of the hill to serve as a hypothetical structure in danger of being burned. Crews extinguished the vegetation around it, and it remained intact even after the fire burned itself out.

Similarly, homes near the exercise did not experience significant smoke from the extinguishing fires.

Moreno hopes the firefighters learned new skills in firefighting and fire behavior, as well as refreshed the skills they have. He also hopes surrounding neighbors are aware of the benefits the training brings to them.

“The winners are the people who live along Brown Street because now they have a nice protection,” he said.

Vacaville Fire Department firefighters climb Callen Hill as they participate in a live-fire training exercise on Tuesday.  The department will hold two more sessions, tomorrow and next week.  (Joel Rosenbaum/The Reporter)
Vacaville Fire Department firefighters climb Callen Hill as they participate in a live-fire training exercise on Tuesday. The department will hold two more sessions, tomorrow and next week. (Joel Rosenbaum/The Reporter)

Training will continue from approximately 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday and May 27 at the same site, weather permitting. In the event of strong winds, humidity and high temperatures, training will be cancelled. Smoke will be visible from Highways 80 and 505 and drift smoke is expected in the Callen and Browns Valley areas. People sensitive to smoke are advised to stay indoors, with doors and windows closed.

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