PASADENA, Calif. — There’s a new fire chief in town and he has his work cut out for him. Chief Chad Augustin is hoping to lead Pasadena’s Fire Department ahead of what he projects could be the third year in a row of the worst fire season on record.
When you think of a fire, you likely think of the fire department, but Pasadena's new fire chief, Chad Augustin says the Pasadena Police Department is a crucial component of their fire response, too.
Stepping into his brand new office, Chief Augustin starts his day like many others as head of staff, approving equipment requests and checking the budget, but this is the job he's been dreaming of since he visited a fire station at just 5 years old.
"That was it," Chief Augustin said as he snapped his fingers. "The impact that they had on a kid, in one instance, right?"
Fast forward a few decades, it’s time for business. With California in one of the worst droughts it has seen, Chief Augustin went straight to work, preparing for an unprecedented fire season.
One of his first courses of action is meeting with the Pasadena Police Department’s helicopter crews to foresee what areas are susceptible to devastating impacts if a fire ignites.
In fact, it was the Pasadena Police aviation crew that first spotted the fire in the Linda Vista hills near the Art Center just a couple of months ago. Chief Augustin says without air operations the fire would’ve likely taken off.
“Because from the ground, you didn’t have the eyes in the sky so they were able to give us great, real time information," Chief Augustin explained. "Where the fire was and more importantly, where it was going.”
Now, he’s taking off with Sergeant Mark Mendenhall of Pasadena PD's special operations division for more preventative measures. First, they’re surveying those same Linda Vista hills that the Chief says compare to the dry conditions of Northern California near Sacramento, where he spent most of his career.
These hills are a high threat area and one of the Chief's biggest concerns.
"This whole hillside area, you can see its very dry, you have upsloping so if we have winds, you’re gonna have spotting and sparks and embers," Chief Augustin said. "Lots of heavy timber, dry brush and not great in the area of defensible space."
Chief Augustin says he’s working on an evacuation plan here, since all it would take is one vehicle blocking the road and they would no longer have the ability to get resources up to the fire. If this year stays as projected, he fears we’ve entered new territory with three years in a row of having the worst fire season on record.
"This is the 11th driest year in the last 127 years," Chief Augustin said. "With ith these kinds of drought conditions and almost every county of the state being in extreme drought conditions, one spark can cause a major fire, so we are at heightened awareness throughout the state.”
Heightened awareness around the neighboring cities, too. Sergeant Mendenhall flies over Monrovia where new shrubs are growing around old burn scars.
"This is as far down as the Bobcat Fire burned,” Sergeant Mendenhall showed.
The Bobcat fire that ignited exactly a year ago on September 6th, burned over 115,000 acres. It is one of the largest in LA County history.
Chief Augustin says Pasadena was one of several agencies who responded to help out.
Sharing those resources is a crucial component for firefighters across the state. Just a few weeks ago, the Chief sent a fire engine to Northern California to help fight the fire there, too.
But as we creep into September, October and November, Chief Augustin says Southern California will be the area with high risk thanks to the Santa Ana winds.
"It’s so dry all of our fuels are at extreme levels of low moisture that any spark, any fuel can cause a devastating fire," he explained.
As a resident, all you can do is be prepared. Have your plans to evacuate ready and keep your go-bag packed.