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Local crews sent to cover state fires

Emergency responders facing ‘extremely dangerous’ situations
By: Jenifer Gee Journal Staff Writer
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State officials have called for help from local firefighters as large blazes have forced mass evacuations and burned thousands of acres of forestland in California. As of Friday, nine fire engines and four fire chiefs from various departments in Placer County were dispatched to the Lockheed Fire in Santa Cruz and the SHU Lightning fire in Shasta, according to Ian Gow, Placer Hills Fire District chief and Placer operational area coordinator. Engines with four crewmembers each from Lincoln, Colfax, Roseville, Penryn and Foresthill fire agencies as well as two chief officers from Roseville were sent to the Shasta complex fire. The Shasta fire has burned about 17,623 acres and was about 70 percent contained as of Friday. The fire forced evacuations of 10 homes and has recorded 19 injuries. Gow said the first Placer strike team crew was sent to the Shasta area fire Aug. 4. A replacement crew refreshed firefighters on Aug. 12. Those crews are considered wildland crews, Gow said. They are constructing fire lines “in very rugged conditions,” Gow added. “That’s extremely arduous and dangerous,” Gow said. At 3 a.m. Friday, officials sent another strike team comprised of engines from Loomis, Placer Hills, Roseville and Auburn agencies, including a chief officer from South Placer Fire and one from Auburn City, to the Lockheed Fire in Santa Cruz. The fire has burned about 4,170 acres and was about 5 percent contained as of Friday. More than 250 homes were threatened and about 2,000 to 2,400 people were evacuated, according to Cal Fire information available Friday. Crews sent to the Santa Cruz fire are charged with big structure protection, Gow said. “It’s their job to be in front of the fire protecting homes and that is extremely dangerous,” Gow said. “That’s where we’ve lost firefighters’ lives in the past few years. That makes us all scared for them.” Auburn City Fire Chief Mark D’Ambrogi, region four coordinator for the state Office of Emergency Services, oversees 12 different operational areas including Nevada, Yolo, Sacramento and Stanislaus counties and the Tahoe area. He said a total of 17 strike teams so far have been sent from region four. That includes 89 engines and one water tender. Cal Fire crewmembers for Nevada, Placer, Yuba and a small portion of Sierra counties have also been called to fires throughout the state including those in Shasta and Santa Cruz as well as the Coffin Fire in Lewiston. Bill Mendonca, Cal Fire battalion chief, said 17 individual captains, engineers, division chiefs and firefighters were dispatched. Twelve fire engines, also with four crewmembers per engine, have been committed to the fires. Mendonca explained that those engines travel to whichever fires at which they are needed. “They could start going one direction one minute and then go another direction the following day depending on where the fires are,” Mondonca said. Mendonca added that one crew strike team leader and two Cal Fire inmate crews, with 17 inmates and one fire captain per crew, were assigned to the Lockheed Fire in Santa Cruz. A Cal Fire bulldozer has also been committed to help with state fires. The state Office of Emergency Services manages when fire crews are dispatched to other fires. When local and regional coordinators get the call, they are charged with alerting crews. Gow said every fire department in California has an agreement with the state to assist with large fires. “That’s the beauty of the system,” Gow said. “We go help others when they need it and the reverse is true. When we need help in Placer, we get help. It’s well worth it.” Gow added that the state reimburses fire departments for personnel costs. Gow said strike team crews are usually rotated every week. He said usually when they are on-site, they are working 24-hour days and then have 24 hours of rest to eat, shower and sleep at a base camp. They also use that time to service fire engines and restock their supplies. “They get some sleep and they go back out,” Gow said. While Gow reassured that county and city fire departments are still staffed and at “full strength,” D’Ambrogi cautioned that residents should still be extra careful this weekend. “We’re going to have some fire weather with hot, dry, windy conditions,” D’Ambrogi said. “Our resources are stretched pretty thin so we need to be really cautious out there.” Jenifer Gee can be reached at jeniferg@goldcountrymedia.com.