The Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) went on standby alert, and the Red Cross and the Salvation Army Team Emergency Radio Network (SATERN) were called out earlier this week in the wake of the so-called Morgan Incident Fire, in chaparral southeast of Clayton, California. The blaze, on the eastern flank of the north peak of Mount Diablo, put at least four Mount Diablo Amateur Radio Club (MDARC) repeaters off the air September 8.
“MDARC and SATERN work hand in hand on most activities from training and license courses to call outs,” MDARC President Jim Siemons, AF6PU, said. “We have a memorandum of understanding between SATERN and MDARC for use of the W6CX repeater system during emergencies. That repeater system was directly threatened by the fire. For 24 hours W6CX repeaters were only taking emergency and priority traffic.”
Repeaters taken down include the K6MDD D-STAR repeater, the W6UUU MotoTRBO repeater, the recently relocated W6CX APRS digipeater and the W6CX ATV repeater. Siemons says the condition of the equipment is unknown. The W6CX APRS digipeater was moved to the north peak of Mount Diablo after vandals toppled the communications tower on Rocky Ridge. “MDARC seems to have gone from the proverbial frying pan into the fire,” Siemons said this week. The fire, under tinder dry conditions, grew rapidly and raced to the mountaintop.
“In an amazing testament of the bravery and tactical skill of hundreds of firefighters, a minimum amount of damage was sustained to the five communications towers on North Peak,” Siemons reported. “The worst [damage] was to what is referred to as the “Amateur Radio tower. Mains power provided via Pacific Gas and Electric to Mount Diablo is down, and those with generators are operating via that mode.” He said no one is predicting when power will be restored; approximately 25 power poles were consumed in the fire. By September 12, the fire was considered 80 percent contained. So far it has claimed some 3200 acres.
“Bottom line,” Siemons said, “hams live to deal with adversity and overcome problems. Whatever happens to our repeaters, we will fix or replace them. What is truly important is that no one gets injured and as little real property gets damaged as is possible.” The fire threatened residences and historical structures as well as other communications facilities in the area, and evacuations were in effect.