CT News, Special Wildfire Issue

Director's Corner

When wildfires strike, Caltrans rises to the challenge

Caltrans Director Laurie Berman

Since July, wildfires have ripped through our Golden State, closing roads and creating havoc. So far, there are $77 million in repair costs for our transportation system and more than a dozen fires are still burning. As always, Caltrans employees have risen to the challenge to meet the incredible demands placed on us as our climate changes and there are more and more fires each year.



Caltrans partners during wildfires

The Cranston fire burned more than 13,000 acres in Riverside County. The arson fire was started on State Route 74 and also affected traffic on State Route 243.

This summer, hundreds of Caltrans employees worked 12-to-16-hour shifts for weeks while dozens of fires consumed nearly 1.3 million acres statewide and damaged millions of dollars of infrastructure. "We used to have one fire each summer," said Rene Garcia, Caltrans' Homeland Security Branch Chief. "Now we are fighting – and helping our partners – with multiple fires."

Into the smoke and escaping the abyss: A Caltrans hero's story

Caltrans Tree Maintenance Supervisor Michael Quinliven came to the aid of a frantic mother when her car became surrounded by Mendocino Complex Fire on State Route 20. Quinliven helped her navigate with minimal visibility away from the fire to safety.

Fires have wreaked havoc across California, as the Golden State grapples with an increasingly long burn season with unprecedented impacts. Lives, property and myriad other losses have affected thousands. But thanks to the intrepid efforts of Caltrans employee Mike Quinliven, several lives were saved July 29 in Mendocino County, as the Mendocino Complex Fire consumed State Route 20.

Three highways and a fire that just won't quit - the Mendocino Complex Fire

Smoke from the Mendocino Complex fires, as well as other California wildfires, poured into the air.

It is a record that no one wants to break - the largest wildfire in California's recorded history. The Mendocino Complex Fire achieved that title on day nine. At day 18, the blaze totaled 344, 890 acres. The Thomas Fire in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties last December held the record previously at 281,893 acres.

Routine turns into disaster

The Carr fire burned much of State Route 299 east of Trinity Damn Boulevard to Quartz Hill Road within the city limits of Redding.

Another alert from dispatch about a vegetation fire alongside highways in District 2 seemed routine. What began as a small fire along State Route (SR) 299 soon turned into something no one in this area could have imagined. The new "routine" was unbelievable. District forces had just been through the Klamathon Fire in Siskiyou County in early July and the Boles Fire in the city of Weed in 2014 – two big and devastating fires – but the Carr Fire was going to prove to be the biggest monster for the Redding-based district.

Reconnecting information lines

District 2 Dispatchers Erin Titus, Karen Law, and Lane Closure System Coordinator Kristen Begrin created a makeshift communication system during the Redding office evacuation during the Carr fire.

On the evening of July 26, Caltrans District 2 employees were forced into a difficult situation. As the Carr Fire forced its way into west Redding, neighborhoods began to burn and the lights began to go out. Approximately 40,000 residents were forced to evacuate with little to no lead time.  Personnel were faced with a difficult dilemma:  How to disseminate information to the public while dealing with the situation firsthand.

Caltrans keeps Redding moving during fire

This is what was left of Redding’s Land Park Subdivision after the Carr fire went through it.

Redding Caltrans workers said the heat was on Thursday, July 26. The Carr Fire started July 23. On July 26, Caltrans Redding-area Public Information Officer Lupita Franco rode with California Highway Patrol partners to get close to the blaze – and she saw the fire jump State Route 299. "It was coming toward Old Shasta, toward Redding," she said. She was alarmed.

Caltrans partners to protect San Bernardino and Riverside County residents

Caltrans crews worked with partner agencies to help residents evacuate from the fires and emergency responders get to them.

ver the past two months, Caltrans District 8 has been involved in combatting multiple wildfires that include the Valley Fire in the San Bernardino Mountains, the Cranston Fire near Idyllwild, and the Holy Fire in the Lake Elsinore area. During these fires, District 8 staff worked around the clock with our partners, including the California Highway Patrol, the U.S. Forest Service, Cal Fire, Riverside and San Bernardino County emergency response units, and sheriff and fire departments. 

Foundation helps Caltrans employees in need

The California Transportation Foundation (CTF) has established the District 2 Caltrans Fire Victims Fund to benefit the workers who lost their homes and possessions due to the Carr Fire. The Foundation also established the District 1 Caltrans Fire Victims Fund to assist two Caltrans workers.

Hats Off

We're here to get you there - and out of the fire

Left to right (back row) Kannon and Honalee Newman, (front row) Michael Quinliven, Johnathan Garcilazo and Takoda Newman pose for a photo after Quinliven saved the woman and children from the Mendocino Complex Fire as it engulfed State Route 20 on July 29.

"I would like to thank the folks at Caltrans who improved the intersection at Highway 152 and Clifford Ave in Watsonville in Santa Cruz County. The left-hand turn lane was too short and in heavy traffic would cut across a double yellow line to reach the turn lane. This was technically illegal and could result in a $237 ticket."

Health & Safety

Protect yourself from wildfire smoke

Dry conditions in much of the United States increase the potential for wildfires in or near wilderness areas. Stay alert for wildfire warnings and take action to protect yourself and your family from wildfire smoke. When wildfires burn in your area, they produce smoke that may reach your community. Wildfire smoke is a mixture of gases and fine particles from burning trees and other plant materials. This smoke can hurt your eyes, irritate your respiratory system, and worsen chronic heart and lung diseases.

Trophy Case

Caltrans fights fires

Caltrans Electrician Jerardo Magadan
Caltrans Electrician Renato Macaranas

On their way to westbound Interstate 580 from the Hesperian Specialty Maintenance Yard, they came upon a grass fire on the southbound side of State Route 238 near the westbound Interstate 580 connector. The fire was about to spread and create a large fire. 

CT News - Caltrans' employee newsletter


Reed Parsell
Editor, Caltrans News (May 2019 to the present; this issue was edited by Erin Von Tersch)

Tamie McGowen
Assistant Deputy Director, Public Affairs

Contact the Editor
Via email
or (916) 654-5820  

Are You Retiring Soon?

Would you like to stay informed of what's happening with Caltrans? If so, submit your home email address to CT News editor Reed Parsell and we'll notify you by email when we publish a new issue of CT News.

Alternative Formats

For individuals with sensory disabilities, this document will be made available in Braille, large print, on audiocassette, or on computer disk. To obtain a copy in one of the alternative formats, please contact the editor.