Placer firefighters return

Crews share accounts from deadly Camp Fire
By: Brody Fernandez Of Gold Country Media
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Placer County firefighters returned home Monday after nearly two weeks battling the most destructive and deadly wildfire in California’s history, the Camp Fire.

According to South Placer Fire Department officials, the engines that participated are South Placer Battalion 1712, Roseville Fire Department E6, Rocklin Firefighters E24, Lincoln Professional Firefighters E35, Auburn Firefighters E1285 and Placer Hills Fire Protection District E84. Collectively, they were known as Placer County Strike Team 4132A.  

As of Tuesday, the Camp Fire was 70 percent contained, according to CAL FIRE (California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection) officials. The blaze had claimed 79 lives by Tuesday and that number could go up as more than 700 residents were still missing, according to CAL FIRE Nevada-Yuba-Placer Unit spokeswoman Mary Eldridge.

“Two strike teams from Nevada City and a number of overhead (management types) were assigned to the Camp Fire,” Eldridge said.

Eldridge said the strike teams could be followed at the #calfireneu Facebook page, Twitter or Instagram.

“We have a lot of very talented, skilled, educated and caring people who want to save lives, property and the environment, Eldridge said.

Captain Jason Boyer of the Rocklin Fire Department spoke to Gold Country Media about the harrowing experience of fighting the state’s most destructive and deadly wildfire.

“On day one (Nov. 8), we definitely had our own challenges and battles,” Boyer said. “The incident commanders had their hands full up there before we arrived and when the fire initially broke out.”

The amount of fire in relation to the destruction it caused was unprecedented, according to Boyer.

“As far as the amount of fire, this was something in terms of scale that I’ve never seen,” Boyer said. “I’ve been doing this for about 20 years now. Every year, we go to several wildfires. We are all trained in all facets of fires from structural, wildland, vegetation fires you name it. So when we run into those incidents such as the Woosley and Camp Fire, we are ready and well prepared.”  

But it was hard to be prepared for seeing the Camp Fire.

“It really puts it into perspective in terms of the number of missing people, for sure,” Boyer said. “It’s just hard to imagine. There are also people who did make it out with only their lives. They can’t go back home to anything, because they have lost everything.”

Placer County’s strike team (4132A) was first assigned to try and save lives.

“On day one, the immediate priority was life safety first and foremost,” Boyer said. “We try to stop forward progress of the fire as much as we can.”

Boyer explained that the Camp Fire was simply a different kind of beast.

“This fire moved so fast that it created its own weather system within the area,” he said.

The most powerful sight to see in Butte County, according to Boyer, was companionship and compassion.

“The amount of energy and effort put in from all agencies, including law enforcement, was unbelievable,” Boyer said. “Law enforcement did an amazing job getting people out safely. Local nurses were getting people in vehicles and safely on the road and out of hospitals. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. It was just people helping people.”  

Now that the Placer County firefighters are safe at home, preparing for Thanksgiving dinner, Boyer says this is no time for complacency.  

“With the fire now at 70 percent contained, it’s not about us having Thanksgiving dinner or the fact that the fire is ‘winding down,’” Boyer said. “The game plan has simply changed. Where the fires burning now is a different mission from a city perspective when it was consuming Paradise. Now it’s more of a focus on forest areas burning and battling more of a wildland fire. We also have to be fiscally responsible because this fire is causing the state quite a bit of money.”

In terms of more Placer County personnel heading back to Butte County, Boyer stressed that they will do whatever it takes.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that resources will be dispatched again,” Boyer said. “We had a few hours off when we got back on Monday but now we are back at work.”