WHITE MOUNTAINS – Many of the local fire districts in both Navajo and Apache counties have sent firefighters and equipment to help with the plethora of wildfires now burning in California.
According to a press release from the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management, nearly 120 Arizona firefighters and 34 engines arrived in California to lend a hand on multiple wildfires burning across that state.
“On Thursday, Oct. 24, the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management received an initial order for ten engines to head to California. On Sunday, California fire officials asked for 24 more,” the press release states.
“Some of those crews are staged in anticipation of new fire starts while others are acting as backfill for local departments.
California was experiencing extreme winds and red flag warnings on Wednesday creating even more dangerous fire conditions. Firefighters are on a minimum 14-day assignment.
Local fire departments that have sent crews include Concho, Pinetop, St. Johns, Taylor-Snowflake, Timber Mesa and Vernon.
Vernon Fire Chief Dave Niehuis said he has one Type 3 engine and three firefighters in the staging process at this time in California. He said he was unsure exactly where they were and which fire they would be assigned to because they will be sent to they are needed most.
“Depending on the specific fire (the firefighters will be assigned to), there are specific resources that are needed. And things can change during travel time, so they are unsure of where they will be going. And it took time for them to get here (to the station in Vernon) and gear up, then they had to gear up the engine, and then get going,” Niehuis said.
Niehuis said that the Concho, St. Johns and Greer Fire Departments also have an engine apiece and either 3 or 4 person crews helping in California at this time.
Pinetop Fire Chief Jim Morgan said he too has a Type 3 engine and four firefighters in California; they went there last Thursday, Oct. 24. Morgan said the most recent wildfire they were on was the 37-acre Miller Fire in San Diego County.
“They were on that fire two days ago,” Morgan said Wednesday, Oct. 30. “And three structures were lost in that one.”
He said his wildland firefighters are typically sent to the high danger front lines adding that they will be required to take a two day rest break in five days before they can go back on the lines.
Morgan said he does not know when they will return to Arizona yet because things are so bad in California right now. Overnight Tuesday night another fire called the Simi Fire in Simi Valley threatened the Reagan Library and other structures.
Morgan said his firefighters in California right now have all the resources they need and asked the public to just send prayers and well-wishes to them and the residents threatened by the California wildfires.
Chief Clay Wood with Timber Mesa Fire and Medical in Show Low also said they sent a Type 3 engine and three wildland firefighters who were in the Sequoia National Forest as of Wednesday, Oct. 30 in pre-positioning mode. They went to California Sunday, Oct. 27 and will be there for an unspecified period of time.
Most wildland firefighters work either a 14 or 21-day rotation.
Wood said it is near impossible to say right now what will happen in California with hundreds of new fires breaking out, sometimes overnight, and the flames being driven by winds as high as 75 mph.
Wood too said what his firefighters need most right now from people in Show Low is prayers and well-wishes for them and people in California threatened by the fires.
Ten wildfires were burning across areas of northern and southern California on Oct. 31 according to the CalFire website which include the Getty, Saddle Ridge and Tick Fires near Los Angeles, the Caples Fire 18 miles southwest of South Lake Tahoe, and in northern California the Kinkade Fire 10 miles northeast of Geyserville, the Burris Fire 4 miles south of Potter Valley, and the South Fire burning 15 miles south of Platina.
Those seven fires alone have burned nearly 98,000 acres that have threatened some of the highest property values in the state in places the like in Brentwood neighborhood near Los Angeles where basketball legend Lebron James and his family were forced to evacuate in the middle of the night when fire threatened their multi-million dollar home.