Tahoe firefighters lend a hand to Southern California | SierraSun.com

Tahoe firefighters lend a hand to Southern California

Nick Cruit
Sierra Sun

AP PhotoA charred stop sign stands amidst the devastation of Oakridge Mobile Home Park after a wildfire swept through in Sylmar, Calif., Monday.

TAHOE CITY “-Firefighters from the Tahoe area are heading into the flames once again, this time in Southern California.

The fires that started Thursday night and burned in Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside counties, have charred nearly 41,000 acres or 64 square miles.

“We got the call at 4 a.m. on the day of the first incident in Santa Barbara,” said North Tahoe Fire Chief Duane Whitelaw, adding that an engine from North Tahoe Fire joined the strike team that left Friday.

One engine crew from North Tahoe Fire, Engine 14, left late Sunday night with three people in tow, Capt. Bob Bahlman, engineer Scott Zimmerman and firefighter Steve Higley.

Fire engines from Reno, Sparks, and Carson City make up a local Nevada strike force while engines from North Tahoe Fire Protection District, South Lake Tahoe Fire Department, Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District, Truckee Fire Protection District, and the Woodland Fire Department round out a local California team.

The crew is staging in Carona, Calif., and is expected to remain in staging until going on assignment sometime today.

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Joe DuRousseau, leader of the 4236 alpha strike team from Nevada, said they are also ready in case something happens or to relieve current crews.

“The weather is cooperating quite a bit,” said DuRousseau. “Winds have died down, and we’re at about 40 percent containment.”

According to Monday’s California joint incident briefing, a strong high pressure system over California will maintain above-normal temperatures and very-low humidity over most of the region. The strong ridge of high pressure is expected to weaken, bringing a slow cooling trend and a slow increase in humidity to the region Wednesday through the end of this week.

“We should be getting the upper hand soon,” said Calfire Truckee area forester Jeff Dowling.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in San Bernardino County, the fourth county to receive the designation since the series of wildfires broke out. The declaration directs state emergency workers to assist local firefighters in containing the blaze and evacuating residents.

The largest of the fires, the so-called Freeway Complex Fire, has burned more than 28,000 acres in Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties and has destroyed more than 160 homes.

The first of the wildfires broke out in the Montecito area of Santa Barbara County, about 90 miles northwest of Sylmar.

Wind gusts peaked at more than 70 mph at the height of the fires over the weekend, but weakened to about 20 mph on Sunday, the National Weather Service said.

The cause of all the fires were under investigation, although officials labeled the Santa Barbara area fire “human-caused,” said Doug Lannon, a spokesman with Calfire.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

TRIANGLE OR FREEWAY COMPLEX: Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties; 28,889 acres (45 square miles); 40 percent contained.

SAYRE FIRE: Northern Los Angeles and San Gabriel Mountains; 10,077 acres (16 square miles); 40 percent contained.

TEA FIRE: Santa Barbara-Montecito; 1,940 acres (3 square miles); 95 percent contained.

Source: The Associated Press