Tuesday, 23 July 2024

County firefighters join battle against So Cal fires

This image of the area around Los Angeles captured by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the Aqua satellite on October 22, shows smoke pouring from several large blazes northwest of Los Angeles. MODIS flies onboard NASA's Aqua and Terra satellites as part of the NASA-centered international Earth Observing System.

LAKE COUNTY – Firefighters from around Lake County left Monday to join the fight against wildland fires that are ravaging seven Southern California counties.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) reported Monday evening that 14 large fires have burned nearly 270,000 acres across Southern California. In San Diego County alone more than 168,000 acres have burned.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office reported that 250,000 people have been evacuated from Southern California communities.

Lakeport Fire Protection District Chief Ken Wells said firefighters from four Lake County agencies and one department in Mendocino County left early Monday morning as part of a five-engine strike team.

They met at the intersection of Highway 53 and 20 to travel to Interstate 5 and down to Southern California, said Wells. He received a call from them at 10 a.m. while they stopped along the way.

Wells said Lake County resources heading south include four engines – one each from Lakeport Fire Protection District, Northshore Fire Protection District, Lake County Fire Protection District and South County Fire Protection District – with each engine accompanied by three firefighters.

In addition, Lakeport Fire Protection District sent a strike team leader and an assistant strike team leader was supplied by Northshore Fire Protection District, said Wells.

The fifth engine with three more firefighters came from Anderson Valley, said Wells.

Wells said local firefighters were first alerted that they might be needed early Sunday afternoon by Mark Reina of Cal Fire, who is involved with coordinating firefighter response for the local Office of Emergency Services.

Local fire agencies have a mutual aid policy, said Wells, and earlier this summer responded to the Lick Fire in Morgan Hill.

On Sunday night, Reina let local agencies know that they would, indeed, be needed, Wells said.

“We don't really know the commitment time when they call us,” said Wells, adding that Lake County's firefighters will remain in Southern California “as long as they need us.”

He added that, with the fires burning now in Southern California, “it's probably going to be a longtime commitment.”

In addition to Lake County firefighters, Fire Captain Justin Benguerel of Cal Fire said Monday that firefighters from the agency's Sonoma-Lake-Napa unit were activated Sunday and began leaving that same afternoon.

The Sonoma-Lake-Napa unit sent 20 “overhead” positions – or personnel who help runs firefighting teams – Benguerel said.

In addition, Benguerel said the unit sent two engine strike teams totaling 10 engines, 30 firefighters and one leader; three crew strike teams totaling 54 people; and one bulldozer strike team, which included two bulldozers and five personnel.

Benguerel said the unit was putting together another engine strike team Monday morning.

Cal Fire's local unit often sends strike teams to fires around the state, said Benguerel. But the recent mobilization is significant, he said.

“We haven't seen this type of mobilization on this type of scale since 2003,” said Benguerel, when the unit sent aid to the 280,278-acre Cedar Fire in San Diego County.

State sends resources to assist

On Monday, Gov. Schwarzenegger directed the California National Guard to make 1,500 guardsmen – including 200 troops currently patrolling the California/Mexico border – available to support the firefighting efforts. Schwarzenegger also quested four National Guard helicopters through the Office of Emergency Services.

Also at Schwarzenegger's direction, by Monday more than 2,300 California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation inmates and more than 170 custody staff had joined city and county fire departments and state agencies as part of a major coordinated effort to battle the widespread wildfires in Southern California. Additional crews are being mobilized.

In order to make more resources available for the firefighting effort, on Sunday night Schwarzenegger declared a State of Emergency in the counties of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Santa Barbara and Ventura.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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