Thursday, 02 February 2023

Local firefighters may head south again

LAKE COUNTY – Local fire resources may once again be headed to Southern California this week as part of a statewide firefighter staging effort.


When fires broke out in Southern California in October, Cal Fire's Sonoma-Lake-Napa unit sent firefighting personnel equipment, as did Northshore, Lakeport, Lake County and South County Fire Protection Districts, as Lake County News has reported.


Chuck Abshear, division chief of operations for the Sonoma-Lake-Napa unit, said the unit sent 10 of its 11 crews to battle the Southern California fires in October.


Those units have since returned. But with continuing dry conditions in the south, combined with a forecast for strong Santa Ana winds through this coming weekend, state officials began ordering Cal Fire resources back to Southern California, said Abshear.


“There's potential for significant fire weather,” he explained.


Fire crews and equipment originally scheduled to leave last Sunday, however, were delayed until Tuesday, said Abshear.


Cal Fire's local unit was preparing to send a strike team of five engines, with three personnel for each engine, said Abshear, plus three more engines that would combine with Santa Clara's Cal Fire resources to form another strike team.


In addition, the Sonoma-Lake-Napa Unit planned to send four hand crews each from two conservation camps – Konocti Conservation Camp and a Solano County camp – plus three bulldozers, Abshear reported.


The Cal Fire helicopter stationed at Boggs Mountain has been in Southern California for the last two weeks, said Abshear.


The local Cal Fire unit will retain nine engines, three inmate crews and one or two bulldozers, said Abshear. With the recent rains Cal Fire feels confident that fire danger in the unit is reduced, he added.


Like other Cal Fire units around the state, the Sonoma-Lake-Napa unit retained seasonal employees in order to respond to Southern California's fire, Abshear explained.


“We still have seasonal employees on,” he said, adding that only about one-third of the unit's 200 seasonal firefighters have been laid off.


Local assistance also was requested through the Office of Emergency Services (OES), said Abshear, with state-owned OES engines called on to report to Southern California.


Northwestern California was to send four strike teams of OES engines, said Abshear.


South Lake County Fire has one OES engine that was called on and supposed to leave earlier this week, said Abshear.


However, Suzie Blankenship, a Cal Fire fire prevention specialist, reported that plans had changed, with South Lake County Fire waiting to hear if it actually would need to respond with a crew.


“It looks like they're on standby and that a decision will be made some time Friday morning as to whether they'll be launched or not,” said Blankenship.


South Lake County Fire officials couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday.


Abshear, who said he has been with Cal Fire's Sonoma-Lake-Napa Unit for eight years, said in that time the unit has not kept on seasonal firefighters this long.


“This year is unique in terms of its continuous fire threat and that's warranted us keeping our staff on,” Abshear said.


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


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