CAL FIRE Local 2881 answers the call more than 450,000 times a year, of which less than 2% are wildland fires. CAL FIRE Local 2881 Firefighters make up the fire department for 30 of our 58 counties and more than 100 local communities. We serve as the incident command during many of California’s most serious disasters, and from structural fires to auto accidents to earthquakes to floods to the spilling of hazardous materials to every conceivable disaster, we make up California’s Fire Department.
CAL FIRE is the largest fire department in California and the third largest fire department in the United States. Our firefighters protect 33 million acres of State Responsibility Area (SRA). However, from the Oregon border to the Otay Mountains in San Diego, CAL FIRE Firefighters are among the best-trained firefighters in the world. We have over 4,000 members within CAL FIRE Local 2881 and we are also associated with the California Professional Firefighters (CPF) and the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF).
Ultimately, CAL FIRE Firefighters are responsible for fulfilling the mission of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to provide comprehensive fire protection and other related emergency services, including protection of life and property.
If you have any questions, in regards to CAL FIRE Local 2881 or CAL FIRE, let us know, and we will be glad to answer them.
San Benito and Monterey County, we are CAL FIRE Local 2881. We are California's Fire Department.
The 19th century was a period of rapid western expansion for America and the general rule was to transfer the public domain (Federal land) into private ownership. But a growing number of Americans wanted to see the Federal Government withdraw certain tracts of the public domain from private settlement and manage the areas in trust for present and future generations. Two parallel movements emerged to address the disposition of the public domain. One was the drive to "preserve" the Nation's natural wonders from privatization. The other was to "conserve" the Nation's storehouse of lumber trees. The first could be said to have started in 1864 when the United States Government gifted the Yosemite Grant and Mariposa Grove to the State of California. In 1866, the California State Legislature accepted this land grant with the understanding that the areas were to be managed for the benefit of present and future generations. Although it was a State park, these two grants signaled the beginning of a federal park program. The advent of a true national park system came with the creation of Yellowstone National Park in 1872 in Wyoming, some 18 years before Yosemite itself became a national park.
The United States Army was assigned the responsibility to patrol and protect this area. The Army's role included the detection and suppression of wildfire within park boundaries. This was no small task considering the size of the sanctuary, the crude equipment at hand, and the few troops that were assigned. Even though the U.S. Cavalry was a far cry from the wildland fire profession of today, they nonetheless represented the beginning of a Federal wildland fire protection program. One noteworthy Army idea was the creation of "campgrounds." These were set up as a means to contain the continuing nuisance of abandoned campfires. In 1890, the Sequoia and General Grant Parks, and the Yosemite Forest Preserve were created. The U.S. Army's qualified success in Yellowstone led to the implementation of Cavalry patrols within these parks in 1891.
As for forestry management, simple laws to protect certain types of trees had been around since colonial times. The creation of the Department of Agriculture in 1862 marks the beginnings of a national effort to protect the nation's agricultural health. It wasn't until 1875, though, that Congress allocated $2,000 to the Department for the purpose of hiring a forestry agent to investigate the subject of timber management. This was unanticipated, since the discipline of forestry was new and there were very few trained foresters in America at this time. In 1881, a Division of Forestry was created and in 1889, the Department of Agriculture was raised to Cabinet level status. Meanwhile, all Federal land remained under the control of the Department of Interior, specifically the General Land Office (GLO).
Bernhard Fernow, Division of Forestry Chief from 1886 to 1898, endorsed the creation of forest reserves and pointed out the need to transfer control of these lands from the General Land Office to the Department of Agriculture. This would insure that government foresters would have the leverage needed to enforce proper timber management practices. Fernow even drafted an organizational scheme that included the idea that "rangers" would be in charge of the smallest administrative units. Stiff opposition against creating federal reserves was overcome in 1891 when Congress passed the Forest Reserve Act. The President was given the authorization to permanently withdraw from the public domain, forestlands he deemed of national importance. The Act did not, however, specify what constituted "forest" land. The people of Southern California capitalized on this by successfully lobbying for the creation of the San Gabriel Forest Reserve, a largely brush covered region whose value lies in its being an important watershed for the Los Angeles Basin. Southern Californians had long been witness to the devastation that wildland fire could bring. They had seen how hillsides denuded by fall fires became a catalyst for flooding and mudslides when winter rains hit. This, in turn, wreaked havoc on the agricultural lands in the Basin below. The Sundry Civil Appropriations Act (Organic Act) of 1897 clarified the intent of the Forest Reserve Act and specifically endorsed the validity of watershed protection. In fact, timber and watershed protection were the cornerstones upon which existing reserves were expanded and future reserves established.
In the midst of the national debate over the merits of having a Federal forest reserve system, the California State Legislature had established a State Board of Forestry. Founded in 1885, the Board was one of the first State appointed forestry boards in the nation. They were authorized to investigate, collect, and disseminate information about forestry. In 1887, the Board members and their assistants were given the power of peace officers to enforce compliance with the few laws that the State had enacted concerning brush and forest lands. A State-level interest in the well being of its natural resources had materialized. But a hostile political climate eventually succeeded in abolishing the State's first Board of Forestry, which was disbanded in 1893.
The Board of Forestry appointed E. T. Allen, an Assistant Forester in the Forest Service, as California's first State Forester. Unfortunately, Allen had to leave office the following year (for personal reasons). Not surprisingly, another Forest Service employee, Gerard B. Lull, filled his position. After all, the Federal Agency was practically the only source for qualified foresters. In passing, it might be mentioned that 1906 was also the year that the State Legislature returned the Yosemite Grant and Mariposa Grove to the Federal Government. While touching upon the subject of parks, the Act of 1905 had placed the State's Big Basin Park in Santa Cruz County under the authority of the Board of Forestry. The State's park system remained under the jurisdiction of the Board until 1927.
The Act of 1905 granted to the State Forester the right to appoint local fire wardens. The State Forester could also "maintain a fire patrol at places and times of fire emergency." The fire patrol system, however, was to be funded by the County in which the action took place. Although the CAL FIRE could be said to have started in 1905 with the creation of the position of State Forester, from 1905 until 1919, the State Forester and the "forestry department" were one-and-the-same. The "department" consisted of the State Forester and a few office staff and assistants based in Sacramento. The remainder of the department was the large body of local fire wardens. They were, however, funded and supported by their local jurisdictions. The State of California was not spending money to maintain a wildland fire protection force.
Earl Warren was elected California's Governor in 1943. Warren appointed William Moore as Director of the Department of Natural Resources. Moore was familiar with and a supporter of the Clar Plan. Without delay he approved formation of six administrative districts within the CAL FIRE which the Clar Plan had proposed. He also instructed the Chief Deputy State Forester to go, as Clar later wrote, "around the State to inform the boards of supervisors that henceforth the State Division of Forestry would give such fire protection to the delineated State and privately owned timber and watershed lands as a specified number of fire crews and other facilities would provide. And also, whenever necessary the State would pay such emergency fire fighting costs as might be deemed proper by the State. And further, the State would augment its forces to any extent and manner desired by the county when reimbursed for the actual cost of the service provided, plus a five percent administration fee." Within a State structure for basic service, the counties had flexibility to build up their own systems with their own fiscal resources as they saw fit. But the real significance of Moore's action was the committing of the State of California to hire and pay the salaries of seasonal and full-time employees in the operation of a statewide wildland fire protection department. The California State Government was now inextricably in the business of wildland fire control. The California Division of Forestry had come of age.
Shortly after the War, two other milestones in the CAL FIRE's history were reached. The idea of buying cut-over land and establishing a State Forest system reached a State Legislature that was receptive toward forestry. In 1945 a special bill was passed to appropriate $100,000 for the purchase of a tract of land which became designated the Latour Demonstration State Forest in Shasta County. Another appropriation to the tune of $600,000.00 soon followed for the acquisition of land in Tulare County. After the Mountain Home Demonstration State Forest was established in Tulare County the State Legislature codified and enacted rules under which the State Board of Forestry and the California Division of Forestry could acquire, manage, and administer State Forest lands. In 1946 a $2,000,000.00 "purchase fund" was setup by the Legislature. From this the lands which constitute the Jackson Demonstration State Forest were procured. Several other State Forests have been added to the system since then. The State Forest system now includes eight units totaling over 71,000 acres.
The other milestone was the establishment of a prison "honor camp" program. Since formation of the second State Board of Forestry the notion that inmates should be used for conservation projects and wildland fire protection had been promoted by different individuals. During World War II, with a critical labor shortage now in effect, selected prisoners were taken from San Quentin and organized into hazard reduction and emergency fire fighting crews. The success of this operation paved the way for the introduction of a Youth Honor Camp system. In 1945 four such camps were founded and a cooperative arrangement between the California Youth Authority and the California Division of Forestry was approved. The CAL FIRE would provide personnel to supervise field work and provide appropriate fire training. The Youth Authority would maintain custodial care of the wards. The program soon extended to the California Department of Corrections' adult population and a system of honor camps (later renamed conservation camps) was developed.
Today 85 million acres of California is classified as "wildlands." Some 15 million acres are identified as valuable forestland with about half of this being federally owned. In 1945, the Forest Practice Act was passed into law to regulate commercial timber harvesting on the non-Federal lands. The act was revised in 1973 and contains provisions that timber harvest plans for commercial operations are to be prepared by Registered Professional Foresters. CAL FIRE administers the law, and logging operators must be licensed by the CAL FIRE to operate upon non-Federal lands.
The men and women of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) are dedicated to the fire protection and stewardship of over 31 million acres of California's privately-owned wildlands. In addition, the Department provides varied emergency services in 36 of the State's 58 counties via contracts with local governments.
The Department's firefighters, fire engines, and aircraft respond to an average of more than 5,600 wildland fires each year. Those fires burn more than 172,000 acres annually.
While Californians are learning more and more about the good as well as the bad of fire, the prevention of large, damaging fires remains a priority for CAL FIRE. From Smokey Bear, to the thousands of CAL FIRE Volunteers in Prevention (VIPs), to new alliances with communities, private industry, and government agencies, aggressive action in fire prevention and fire safety is occurring throughout the State.
Because of the Department's size and major incident management experience, it is often asked to assist or take the lead in disasters, including the Northern and Central California floods of 1997, 1998, and 2006; the 1991 Cantara train derailment and toxic spill; 1994 Northridge earthquake; 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake; the 1991 Tunnel Fire in the Oakland/Berkeley Hills; and the 2003 Southern California Fire Siege.
As part of the CAL FIRE team since 1995, the Office of the State Fire Marshal (OSFM) supports the CAL FIRE mission to protect life and property through fire prevention engineering programs, law and code enforcement and education. The OSFM provides for fire prevention by enforcing fire-related laws in state-owned or operated buildings, investigating arson fires in California, licensing those who inspect and service fire protection systems, approving fireworks as safe and sane for use in California, regulating the use of chemical flame retardants, evaluating building materials against fire safety standards, regulating hazardous liquid pipelines, and tracking incident statistics for local and state government emergency response agencies.
The OSFM, State Fire Training, and CAL FIRE Academy programs provide training education and certification programs for the California Fire Service. Through practical training exercises and classroom courses, every California firefighter is exposed to training standards that have been approved by CAL FIRE and OSFM, each among the best institutions in the nation for fire training education. Offering more than 1,000 classes annually, State Fire Training programs reach over 24,000 students each year and have issued over 100,000 certifications to members of the more than 900 fire California fire departments. Each year over 2,000 personnel attend the CAL FIRE Academy in Ione, California participating in courses ranging from basic fire control and arson investigation, to leadership development and forest practice enforcement.
CAL FIRE's mission emphasizes the management and protection of California's natural resources; a goal that is accomplished through ongoing assessment and study of the State's natural resources and an extensive CAL FIRE Resource Management Program. CAL FIRE oversees enforcement of California's forest practice regulations, which guide timber harvesting on private lands. Department foresters review an average 500 to 1,400 Timber Harvesting Plans (THPs) and conduct over 6,500 site inspections each year. THPs are submitted by private landowners and logging companies who want to harvest their trees. The reviews and inspections ensure protection of watershed and wildlife, as well as renewal of timber resources. Department foresters and fire personnel work closely to encourage and implement fuels management projects to reduce the threat of uncontrolled wildfires. Vegetation management projects such as "controlled burns" take teamwork between foresters, firefighters, landowners, and the local communities. CAL FIRE Foresters promote conservation and the importance of our trees and forests to Californians of all ages.
CAL FIRE manages eight Demonstration State Forests that provide for commercial timber production, public recreation, and research and demonstration of good forest management practices. CAL FIRE foresters can be found in urban areas working to increase the number of trees planted in our cities, or preventing the spread of disease by identifying and removing infected trees. A Native American burial ground in the path of a logging operation or fire may be verified and saved due to a CAL FIRE archaeologist's review of the area. And, an improved strain of trees, resistant to disease and pests, may be nurtured and introduced by a CAL FIRE forester.
Beyond its wildland fire fighting role, CAL FIRE answers the call more than 450,000 times for other emergencies each year. It may very well be a CAL FIRE engine and crew that is dispatched to the scene of an auto accident, or to a home where a child has become the victim of a drowning incident. The Department is always ready to respond - medical aids; hazardous material spills; swiftwater rescues; search and rescue missions; civil disturbances; train wrecks; floods, earthquakes and more.