Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

Central Park Transformed Into Tent City for Firefighters.
2002 Copper Fire.

June 2002 — Santa Clarita Central Park is turned into a command post and base camp/tent city for firefighters from multiple agencies who are battling the Copper Fire in San Francisquito Canyon.

Photos by Evan Thomason, City of Santa Clarita.

'A City Within a City.'

Firefighters Set Up Camp at Central Park.

Click to enlarge.

Saturday should have been a normal sunny, spring day at Central Park.

There should have been softball players wiping the sweat off their brows standing in center field waiting for the perfect catch. There should have been kids running around the soccer fields wearing shin guards that cover their entire legs. There should have been parents coaxing their toddlers to come down the blue-and-yellow kiddie slide in the park's sandbox.

But not this Saturday.

Instead, multi-colored domed tents, portable trailers and fire engines have inhabited the popular weekend park, and it looks like the dwellers will remain for another week.

Besides serving as the city's main recreation area, Central Park in Saugus also doubles as the base camp for firefighters combating local brash fires. Dubbed by some as "Tent City,'' more than 1,200 fire crews have eaten, slept, and well, slept some more there since the Copper Fire broke out Wednesday and scorched more than 23,000 acres.

Inspector Kurt Schaefer of the Los Angeles County Fire Department said the mobile stations begin set up within hours of a fire.

"Basically, what you have here is a city within a city," Schaefer said. "'I know we've inconvenienced a few soccer games."

More than 6,000 hot meals are served daily here. Schaefer said steak and potatoes were the fare for Friday's dinner. As for Saturday morning, there were all the fixin's for a proper breakfast: pancakes, sausage and bacon. Carbohydrates are key to a firefighter's energy, Schaefer said.

All of the blaze's logistic, mapping and planning departments are headquartered in the 40-acre park. The information central post, which disperses all needed data to the guys on the line, is also stationed here.

Schaefer said there are a few kinks to work out once the command post is set up.

"The first day is hectic," he said. "Then it begins to run smoothly."

The county has had a lot of practice setting up camp here. Central Park was raided during last year's Bouquet Canyon fire, and again in May.

Cramped in the parking lot slots are nearly 200 fire engines from areas as far away as San Diego County and Barstow. Next to the engines are tents bunched together that serve as the post's laundry, supply and showering facilities.

There is a medical trailer on the premises that has been aiding the firemen with blisters, cuts and scrapes. Luckily, there have been only a few minor injuries.

Sitting in the middle of a would-be soccer field is the mess tent, filled with folding chairs and tables that are topped with all the necessary condiments.

Finally, are the sleeping "quarters."

Pop-up tents are strewn throughout the fields, some blown over from the wind. The tents' occupants', who are surely exhausted and fast asleep, feet stick out into the shining sunlight, but they don't seem to care.

This city within a city has almost everything ... but it's missing a television.

Many of the resting crews asked how the Lakers were doing in the series.

A crew from Ventura County was propped up on one of the park's hills trying to find some shade. The five men were sitting with their smoke-filled boots and socks off, running their toes through the plush, green grass.

They had been on the line since Wednesday and couldn't watch how their favorite team was faring.

"We heard it on the radio, but it's not the same," one of the tired men said without raising his head.

This crew had been stationed in Green Valley and spent the last three nights sleeping on top of their truck, lying on the hoses.

"Otherwise, the rattlesnakes will get us," another said.

Told the Lakers dominated the game and beat the New Jersey Nets 106-83, they mustered a grin.

"It all comes with the territory," Schaefer said.

About the 2002 Copper Fire.

USDA Forest Service-Angeles National Forest, 2016.

In 2002, the Copper Fire, occurring predominantly within the San Francisquito watershed, burned approximately 20,000 acres of coastal sage scrub, montane chaparral, grasslands, and riparian corridor, as well as isolated big cone Douglas-fir stands. The intense nature of the fires, coupled with the steep terrain and highly erosive soils of the watershed, resulted in loss of vegetative cover and significant sediment loading to San Francisquito Creek, which in turn resulted in particularly acute impacts to two endangered aquatic species: the unarmored three-spine stickleback and the California red-legged frog.

In addition, the loss of vegetation significantly exacerbated encroachment of invasive vegetation throughout the watershed, and facilitated an increase in illegal and damaging off-route OHV use. The Copper Fire also notably reduced the population of an endangered plant, the Nevin's barberry, among other rare and threatened native plant species on the Forest.

Along with the natural resources, the Copper Fire affected infrastructure important to the Los Angeles urban area, including power transmission lines for Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and Southern California Edison, a portion of the Los Angeles aqueduct, and lands that drain to Bouquet Reservoir, a source of drinking water for Los Angeles. Many cultural and historical heritage sites were also affected, including the site of the St. Francis Dam failure, a proposed national memorial site.

The impacts from the Copper Fire continued well after the initial event, as heavy rains and flooding occurring in 2005 and 2006 were exacerbated by the loss of vegetation that resulted from the Copper Fire and led to significant erosion, sediment loading to San Francisquito Creek and critical California redlegged frog habitat, and damages to the road and road crossings that parallel San Francisquito Creek through portions of the watershed.

Click image to enlarge.

SC0201: Download original images here.


Ruiz Cemetery 6/5/2002


News Coverage 6/2/2002 & 6/3/2002


Central Park Base Camp 6/2002


Forest Restoration Strategy 2016

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