Monday, July 23, 2012

Fire in the Hills!!!

Howdy friends and neighbors of the hills!

Flames in the Montebello Hills above  Hibiscus St. in Montebello.
Photo courtesy of Alberto Perez.

Fire season has arrived with a vengeance here in the City of Montebello.

On Monday, July 9,  a 10-20 acre wildfire broke out in the Montebello Hills oil field just after 3 p.m.  For those of us living near the hills, it seemed like the baleful sound of sirens just kept coming one after another after another all afternoon.  By nightfall the conflagration had grown into a 3 alarm fire and the Montebello Fire Department was working side by side with fire units from 11 other agencies along with 2 prison fire crews and 2 water dropping helicopters.

Two power poles were burnt exposing their live wires but thankfully there were no injuries nor any other structures lost; however, the fire did come uncomfortable close to several oil wells.  The cause of the blaze is still under investigation.

Montebello Fire Department
Montebello Police Department
Montebello Police Volunteers
And all the other supporting Fire Departments and support crews!
Y'all did an AWESOME job!!!!!!

The Montebello Hills oil field fire as seen from Rose Hills Memorial Park.
Photo courtesy of M. Popoff, Save the Montebello Hills Task Force

Early media reports about the fire were mighty skimpy on details but members of the Save the Montebello Hills Sierra Club Task Force started their own "breaking news" grapevine to share information amongst their neighbors and the media.

Fire crews remained on the scene overnight to monitor hot spots.  Note the drill rig at the upper left corner of the photo.  Photo copyright: The Montebello Hills Blog

 The Montebello Hills oil field is owned and operated by Plains Exploration & Production (aka: PXP) based out of Houston, Texas.  This is the same company that was charged with 8 misdemeanor counts of violating state water pollution laws for not reporting a 2010 oil spill from the Montebello Hills that reached the nearby Rio Hondo River.  The Task Force was instrumental in bringing this unreported spill to the attention of the media. 

This past March, PXP was found guilty and fined $75,000. 

Well, I reckon that $75,000 fine for "not reporting" an actual spill must've spooked PXP because somebody filed a "just in case" hazardous materials spill report with the California Emergency Management Agency!  So, while most of the media seemed to be downplaying the fire's risk to the oil field, PXP was quietly evacuating 11 of it's own employees and letting the state know the brush fire could “impact infield piping, potentially releasing oil and gas into the environment.” Thank God Almighty PXP's "concerns" didn't come to fruition!

Once again, it was the Task Force that found this bit o' information and leaked it to EGP news.

 EGP News
Montebello Brush Fire Rattles Nerves
By Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou, EGP Staff Writer

The burnt hillside as seen from Montebello Blvd.  According to EGP News the fire started near the PXP offices.
   Photo copyright:  The Montebello Hills Blog

For the past 6 years or so, Cook Hill Properties LLC (a subsidiary of PXP) has been working to "monetize the surface rights" of the Montebello Hills oil field by trying to push through a 1,200 unit housing development known as the Montebello Hills Specific Plan.  Now this  here "specific plan" is very "unspecific" when it comes to all sorts o' safety issues, including fire protection but that's a LONG story best saved for another post.

According to the Montebello Hills Specific Plan's  Draft Environmental Impact Report (the section entitled "Wildfires" on p. 4.7-8):

Historically several small fires have occurred in the project site, most recently in July 2008. Due to the generally sparse vegetation, brush fires have been limited to areas less than two acres in extent. No structures or oilfield equipment have been involved in fires for at least 15 to 20 years due to fuel modification measures around oil well pads.5

Uh oh, looks like somebody's gonna have to rewrite this section!!!!

Now tell me, would YOU buy a home here?  Personally, I find the thought of maybe someday having to race oil field personnel to the nearest exit not very appealing.

Daisy Mae

More photos of the fire can be found at the Whittier Daily News Photo Gallery.

Update:  Another Montebello resident has posted their photos of the fire at this blog:
The Perry

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