The Milpitas Beat checked in this evening with Milpitas Fire Department (MFD) Chief Brian Sherrard for an exclusive interview.
Out the gate, Sherrard reiterated what other news outlets have been reporting in recent days: “Resources are stretched thin across the region due to fires across the state…”
Going deeper, and addressing the major fire being faced by Milpitas, he continued, “The SCU Complex is approximately 230,000 acres now, and it’s about 10% contained.”
The SCU Lightning Complex is the massive blaze that’s spurred evacuations east of Ed Levin park and has the rest of the city on edge.
Says Sherrard, “We’re doing everything we can.” But he then pointed out that the weather forecast is calling for more thunderstorms rolling into the area on Sunday into Monday. Whereas many might expect rain to help with the fires, the Chief explained that the net benefits of brief rainfall cannot outweigh the net hazards of fresh lightning.
After all, per its namesake, The SCU Lightning Complex is owed in large part to recent lightning storms. And in general, the fires are burning too hot for the rain to make an impact on them.
“Fires are already unpredictable,” said Sherrard, “and weather plays a really big role.”
When asked about the potential for the fire to impact Milpitas on a ground level, below and outside the hills, Sherrard said, “Strictly speaking for the City of Milpitas, the fire is predominantly south,” meaning it’s presently having a more direct impact on San Jose and Gilroy.
But he added, “Shifting winds and spot fires could change the pattern.” In other words, a sudden gust headed toward inland Milpitas could lead to substantial fires here.
Accordingly, Sherrard advised residents to protect their residences. That means removing combustible materials such as lumber, dried leaves, pine needles, vines, vegetation, hanging tree branches, and lawn furniture from around one’s property, the better to create a safe area around the home, ideally in the form of a perimeter that measures 30 feet.
In addition, Sherrard urged all Milpitas residents to prepare emergency kits, packing early and being ready. “Don’t wait,” he said, telling folks to mind what are called The Six Ps in preparation for evacuation, which are:
- People & pets
- Papers & phone numbers
- Prescriptions, vitamins, & glasses
- Personal computers
- Plastics (credit, debit, + plenty of cash)
Three days of personal items are recommended. Flashlights, cell phones, and cell phone chargers are also musts.
In the meantime, Chief Sherrard said, “Be vigilant.” Watch the news. Monitor the situation. Keep an eye on the City’s website.
Sherrard praised the City’s site for its information, adding that “The City and the Fire Department have been and are being very proactive”—working closely with CALFire and engaging in regular info gathering and accordant preparation.
In addition, The City of Milpitas swiftly activated its Emergency Operation Center (EOC) to ensure coordination and collaboration among city departments and leaders.
Meanwhile, adding to the pressure on the backs of already resource-strapped firefighters is the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Said Sherrard about himself and his fellow firefighters: “We practice the same things that we tell the public…”
In other words, firefighters in the field are social distancing, wearing masks/face coverings, and conducting regular temperature and symptom checks. Symptomatic firefighters are subject to swift isolation, pending COVID-19 testing/recovery.
“It adds a whole layer of things,” Sherrard said in regard to COVID-19.
The MFD has upped its number of daily staff members and apparatuses to confront the ongoing emergency. They are at work 24/7 now, both inside and outside of the city, both out in the field and inside their administrative offices.
As the fight goes on, so does the hope that more resources to wage it will become available. “Any additional resources will be beneficial for us,” Sherrard noted, “within or outside the state.”
He then added, “As other fires come under control, they will shift resources to the most critical fires within the state.”
Asked about how Milpitas firefighters are faring, the Chief said, “There have been no injuries to our personnel.”
Asked if this is one of worst fire events he has ever witnessed in his long career, the Chief paused for a moment.
He then said, “Yes.”