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Local firefighters join SoCal battle

Renee Shadforth, Sierra Sun, and William Ferchland, Sun News Service

The fire danger is high, and area fire crews are spread thin.

It’s not a pretty picture for Truckee and Tahoe basin fire agencies, which have responded to Southern California’s call for help to battle a deadly wind-whipped wildfire that is taking lives and swallowing homes.

Over the weekend, Nevada-Yuba-Placer California Department of Forestry sent more than 100 area firefighters to control blazes in the southern portion of the state. They have also sent 17 of their 20 engines.

“We’ve sent all that we can spare,” said Tina Rose, public information officer for Nevada-Yuba-Placer CDF. “We usually get stretched thin during the summer, but we’re stretched really thin right now.”

Units from local agencies will cover CDF stations in the event of local fires until CDF units return from Southern California, Rose said. CDF crews have committed to remain down south for at least two weeks.

And with fire danger high until the region receives precipitation, Rose stressed the importance of fire safety.

“Every fire we’ve had recently could have been prevented,” she said.

Along with firefighters, CDF has sent 20 overhead personnel (investigators and fire prevention officers, for example) to Southern California.

The Truckee Fire Protection District has sent two strike team leader trainees to the multi-county fires.

The Truckee Ranger District has sent a staging area manager and has plans to send at least one more person in the next couple of days, said Forest Service Battalion Chief Greg Emerson.

“We have some possible weather coming this week ourselves,” Emerson said.

Tahoe basin agencies send crews

On Saturday, Lake Valley Fire Protection District sent three people and a fire engine to fulfill its agreement with the Office of Emergency Services. In the contract, Lake Valley gets an extra engine owned by the state. If assistance is needed at a natural disaster in California, Lake Valley must send the engine and an eager crew to the scene.

On Monday, another engine, four firefighters and Assistant Chief Curt Warren took off to help battle the blazes.

“It’s almost a problem in talking people out of going,” Lucas said. “Everybody wants to go. This fire is going to go down in the history books and to be a part of it is pretty special.”

Bruce Van Cleemput, chief of Tahoe-Douglas Fire Protection District, left Saturday to be a strike team commander in charge of five engines and about 20 firefighters. Larry Ochoa from Truckee Fire Protection District went with the team as a strike team leader trainee. The team was deployed to Simi Valley.

“Our district is available and ready to send another engine if they need it,” said Rick Nicholson, assistant chief with Tahoe-Douglas. “On fires like this it’s definitely neighbors helping neighbors.”

South Lake Tahoe Fire Department hasn’t sent any resources. The department is waiting for the return of an engine ladder from Oakdale which is receiving maintenance. Once the vehicle makes its way back to Tahoe this week, the department can assist down south, said Chief Mike Chandler.

Placer County dispatch contacts fire agencies in 11 counties, including El Dorado and Nevada counties, asking what resources are available to be sent south.

Twenty strike teams from 14 agencies were sent by Monday afternoon, according to Kelly Hernandez, communications supervisor for the Placer County Sheriff’s Department. The U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit receives its orders from Redding, where Northern California’s Geographical Area Coordination Center is located.

The Southern California center in Riverside has exhausted the U.S. Forest Service’s available resources in the region.

LTBMU sent 10 crew members for two brush fire engines and eight “miscellaneous overhead positions” which includes radio operators, a dispatch supervisor and personal time recorders who help track people, said Kit Bailey, fire management officer for LTBMU, who was waiting for orders on Monday to go to the fires.

If he goes, Bailey would be an operations sections chief in charge of 500 or more people.

Bailey said the LTBMU has reached “drawdown,” which is the minimum level of resources that can fight a fire in the basin.

The South Shore hot-shot crew, a mobile team of expert wildland firefighters, is being kept in the basin by Bailey because of expected high winds. Also, 18 people must be available for the crew to move. The Tallac Hotshots, which end their firefighting season Nov. 1, are down to 15 people because others returned to school, Bailey said.

Other agencies in the basin and the surrounding area are sending resources.

North Tahoe Fire Protection District, which also has a contract with OES, sent its state-owned fire engine, a district-owned fire engine and the necessary crew.

Bureau of Land Management spokesman Mark Struble said the Carson City field office is sending two type three engines and four fire managers to Southern California.

“We would be sending more, but our fire season is over here and we don’t have the personnel,” he said. “Our seasonal personnel have long gone back to work or school.”

Battalion Chief Dan Shirey said Carson City is short firefighting personnel, but would like to send someone south as soon as they can.

Storey County Fire Capt. Ron Adkins said the fire department sent two brush trucks along with a Reno Fire Department strike team.


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