In the heat of the well organized and comprehensive response, no mention of Bushy Lake's status was heard over fire department radio frequencies monitored. During the fire, a bulldozer widened existing firebreaks and created new ones and towed trucks that became stuck in areas beyond existing access.
A helicopter provided direction to help crews working quickly under thick smoke and limited visibility. The high voltage lines through the area could not be shut down during the fire and crews were concerned that sparks could arc in those smokey conditions. The comprehensive response restricted the fire from reaching most areas below the towers and lines as well as the fairgrounds. The relative priorities seemed to be protect existing utility infrastructure, the nearby state fair grounds with scheduled events and then Parkway habitat in that order.
The scene still smoldered with hot spots to watch so access was restricted along the bike trail the day after. The trail was opened again on the 6th. The area burned was actually much larger (163 acres including riparian and oak woodland habitat) than the 40 acres of "brush"initially reported. This is the largest and perhaps most damaging recent fire in the parkway and includes some backfire areas burned to help control the fire.
The state fair complex across the levee was threatened by this fire and evacuated hours before the scheduled $50,000 firework display and soccer match. The soccer match was rescheduled but the firework show went on that night. What else to do with all those purchased explosives? There was some damage to a few parked cars but otherwise the fire did not reach the structures or large eucalyptus trees present. Parking for the evening fireworks event was restricted due to smoky conditions which likely put more pressure on nearby areas such as Sutter's Landing Park. Several days after the fire, vehicles associated with the livestock programs for the upcoming state fair are again parking on areas that recently burned.
Biking along the levee between the fair and burned area the day after it was noted that personal fireworks had been lit there near the eastern edge of the fire. Could this have been the cause of the CalExpo fire? Headlines about other fires being fought nearby reported that embers from one city's annual firework display was thought to have caused fires in another county at their fairgrounds no less.
I learned yesterday that the CalExpo fire is thought to have started from a small fire that occurred earlier in the week and the same location and was being monitored by fire and park staff. It is not clear yet how the monitored fire could have resulted in this much bigger problem. This needs to be reviewed closely to determine what can be done to avoid such results in the future.
It is also important to evaluate the effectiveness of the measures taken in the Bushy Lake area during this fire. Was habitat protection adequate or should other steps be taken in the future? Will habitat restoration be a priority? An overall question in the midst of this drought is whether personal fireworks should be more tightly managed too.
Special thanks and kudos to all fire response personnel who handled the CalExpo fire in a professional and effective manner while being at risk due to difficult conditions.
More photos of this and other recent Parkway fires are available at this link.