Morgan Territory braces for another year of fire and smoke

Morgan Territory braces for another year of fire and smoke
Morgan Territory native John Khashabi leads a growing association of volunteers who are often first on the scene of a neighbor’s emergency, ready to assist until authorities arrive. (Tamara Steiner photo)

CLAYTON, CA — Go-bags packed with toothbrushes, medications, pet food, account numbers and passcodes sit by the front door. Mowers and ‘tillers kick up dust clouds as acres of dry grass disappear under their blades. Family heirlooms and picture albums rest safely in a storage units miles away. Noses are turned to the wind and Pulse Point is on every phone.

This is fire season on Morgan Territory. And with the lack of rain, it’s looking to be even worse than last year.

“Vegetation is already dry much earlier,” warned fire marshal Steve Aubert, East Contra Costa Fire Protection District. “Without more rain, we are in a world of trouble.”

A way of life

Morgan Territory braces for another year of fire and smoke
John Khashabi

Wildfires and evacuations are a way of life for the 300 or so homes in the heavily wooded Morgan Territory and Marsh Creek hills and valleys—an area FEMA deems a high-risk Wildland Urban Interface Zone.

Preparation and defensible space are critical to surviving the kind of fire that swept the Sonoma Valley last year, says Aubert.

Led by 51-year-old Morgan Territory native John Khashabi, the Morgan Territory Community Association is actively helping neighbors prepare for and manage this constant threat. The 150-member non-profit has amassed a fleet of trucks, a fire truck, water tender, bulldozers, and other emergency equipment. Volunteers, many with firefighting and emergency training, will show up wherever they are needed, says Khashabi.

“We bridge the gap until the fire department or EMTs can get there,” he said.

Once loosely organized as the Morgan Territory Volunteer Fire Department, Khashabi’s truck would often arrive first on a fire, red lights flashing and siren blaring.

Unsanctioned, the rogue volunteers were a thorn in the side of ECCFPD and CalFire. The volunteers were operating outside the law, ECCFPD Chief Brian Helmick explained. “Without training and legal status, they were impersonating a firefighter,” Helmick said. “They were putting themselves and others in danger and the liability is just too great.”

Working together

As the Morgan Territory Community Association, however, Khashabi and the volunteers are recognized and supported by ECCFPD. “We are working well together,” Helmick said. “Better than we ever have.”

Sanctioned by ECCFPD, the group’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) is assisting with logistics at vaccination sites. The group is bringing the Firewise USA wildfire reduction training individual neighborhoods.

MTCA members are ready to assist with evacuations if necessary. They will be asking residents for waivers this month to allow access to private property in the event of an emergency. Without the waiver, says MTCA safety officer, Doug Fountain, we can’t help.

“I love the MTCA,” said resident Kelly McDougal. “I know John and the others are there if I need help.”

Membership in MTCA is open to all, not just residents. There are no dues, but donations are welcome, Fountain said. The group is applying for grants but in the interim, individual members maintain all the equipment at their own expense. For more information, email or visit on Morgan Territory Community Association Facebook.