“Can you hear me now?” – Bentley Ranch keeps lines of communication open

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Clif Simonson had been a busy man. When the Thomas Fire swept through his area, the manager of the 1,000 acre Bentley Ranch south of Ojai had immediately swung into action.

Using his experience of the ’85 fire which had burned large parts of Ventura County, he ordered the cutting of fire lines to slow the fire’s advance as well as assisted out-of-town fire crews, educating them on the local geography and where the fire was likely to spread.

The result of the combined work of Simonson, the Bentley Ranch team and Cal Fire was the successful diversion of the fire away from San Antonio Creek and the city of Ojai and the time to build secondary defenses. The fire was then forced to burn around the ranch, back upwind and slowing its advance.

There was more work to be done though. The next day, he focused on infrastructure. It was important to Simonson that cell reception to Ojai stayed up, as that was a main source of communication and information for the land-locked valley. Four different cell carriers had arrays on Black Mountain where the ranch was located. A west-facing array had already been damaged, but there were still arrays located on the ranch and transmitters were still running on battery backup or generators.

It was a critical time for communications. The Thomas Fire was wrapping around Ojai, and the city was in danger of being completely cut off. People in Ojai were desperate to get news of the progress of the fire as well as communicate with friends and family who lived outside the valley. Many people didn’t even have a landline, so cell phones were their primary link to the outside world.

Simonson didn’t want that link broken. He gathered together the chainsaws and heavy equipment from the ranch and began clearing fallen trees and debris from the roads leading to the cell arrays. Soon, technicians from the different carriers began arriving to check their equipment and make repairs.

Simonson guided them through the ranch, helping them reach the remote areas where the arrays were located. Trucks from the cell carriers began arriving with additional equipment along with more technicians to repair damaged generators.

Due to this cooperative effort, cell service to the Ojai valley remained largely uninterrupted except for intermittent disruptions. Vital information was allowed to flow during a critical and dangerous time of the fire, helping many in Ojai to get news, find shelter, and reach out to loved ones to let them know they were safe.