Posted on Oct 25, 2018
Nick Schuler is a Carlsbad resident and Deputy Chief of CAL FIRE. Nick has one of the busiest and most critical jobs in the world: overseeing California firefighters’ response to the state’s wildfires. He’s been with CAL FIRE for more than 20 years, in charge of South San Diego County and statewide air operations, and on a task force with California Highway Patrol and other agencies to respond to disasters. His responsibility covers 31 million acres in California.
Nick specifically talked about the Lilac Fire, which on Dec. 7, 2017 burned nearly 4,100 acres very rapidly from I-15 through Bonsall, into the Oceanside city limits. He described a “perfect storm” environment, huddling with his team at 5 a.m. and saying to them, “Today is the day we’re having a big fire.” Six hours later, it broke out on I-15, under dire red-flag conditions: 60 mph Santa Ana winds, 85-degree temperatures, 5 percent humidity, and the driest brush in state history. Within 15 minutes of call-in, the fire spread from 3-4 acres to already destroying 50 structures. Eventually, 221 structures were lost.
Nick focused on the superb response, as well as CAL FIRE’s masterful pre-planning and forward projection — predicting where the fire will go, and positioning assets. Within hours, 372 firefighters, 165 inmates working in 15-man hand crew teams, 46 engines, aircraft and helicopters managed to stop the fire in eastern Oceanside; CAL FIRE had anticipated the fire could reach I-5. Besides homes, they also dealt with an exclusive horse farm that housed many race horses – 25 of which perished. The communication, teamwork, willingness to go into harm’s way, interagency cooperation, evacuation procedures resulted in stopping a fire that could have been much worse.
Finally, Nick described 2018 as being one of the deadliest years for firefighters in California history — not only in the line of duty, but from PTSD-related suicides, caused from the past decade of dire fire conditions and massive blazes throughout the state. He also further described the inmate firefighter program, and how firefighters get water for air drops, which was fascinating: from the ocean, private ponds, lakes, and golf courses.