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West Valley City Journal

West Valley firefighters among crews deployed to help California battle fires

Dec 01, 2017 08:00AM ● By Jennifer Gardiner

Firefighters from across the state raced to California to help battle the state’s wildfires. (Photo/Brad Kurtz,Twin Peak T2IA Crew Member, Utah)

With the wildfires raging in California, several of Utah’s firefighters, including from West Valley Fire Department, headed west to help battle some of the deadliest fires in California’s history. 

Many of Utah’s fire agencies responded to the call for help and after a big rally at the Maverik Center in West Valley City on October 14, nine agencies, along with additional firefighting resources, deployed to California.

Thirty-two engines and at least 130 personnel from South Jordan, Salt Lake City, Unified Fire Authority, Provo, West Valley, West Jordan, Draper, Pleasant Grove and Uintah City answered California’s request for additional resources to help relieve the burden on local firefighters who were exhausted from continuous operations. The fire outbreak in California has been one of the most destructive the Golden State has ever seen.

The Utah convoy that was originally expected to travel to Northern California was diverted to Chino first, to help with fire efforts in Southern California. 

They arrived in Chino on October 15.

Eric Holmes, Unified Fire Authority public information officer, said that every morning since then every crew that came to help would meet at the mobility center. As all fire crews operated under Cal Fire, they would then wait for their assignments from them.  

“During the briefings they receive assignments, an overview of the day, weather conditions, when they eat, etc.,” Holmes said. “Unified Fire is making sure they are ready to go. They are double checking their trucks and equipment. They need to make sure everything is ready so when they get the call to go fight a fire, they can be on the road in three minutes or less.”

Holmes said fire crews that were not assigned continued to help with necessary training.

Two days later the team split into two task forces. One team, comprised of a task force leader and units from UFA, West Valley Fire, Draper City Fire and Uintah Fire took off to help battle the Bear Fire near Santa Cruz, while the rest stayed in Chino.

Several of Salt Lake City’s firefighters returned on Friday, October 20 and the rest returned around noon the next day. 

Since the start of the fire siege on Sunday, October 8, California firefighters, with additional crews from 19 other states and one other country, teams have responded to 250 wildfires. At the peak of the wildfires there were 21 major wildfires that burned over 245,000 acres. Some 11,000 firefighters battled the destructive fires that had at one time forced the evacuation of 100,000 people and destroyed an estimated 7,700 structures. 

The California wildfires have devastated communities, ripped through the heart of cities and towns, destroying everything in its path and, sadly, claiming the lives of 42 people with dozens of people still reported missing.

Currently, 15,000 people remain evacuated from their homes as the challenge of finding temporary housing continues for those who lost everything. 

Mother Nature finally started to help when a low pressure system came off the Gulf of Alaska and dropped into the Pacific Northwest. Northern California was able to finally see some cooler air and rain, lowering the fire risk. But in Southern California, where many of Utah’s crews remained, the fire risk has increased. The National Weather Service continued to keep a fire watch for those areas due to gusty winds and low humidity. 

“This is traditionally the time of year when we see these strong Santa Ana winds,” said Chief Ken Pimlott, director of CAL FIRE.

“And with an increased risk for wildfires, our firefighters are ready. Not only do we have state, federal and local fire resources, but we have additional military aircraft on the ready. Firefighters from other states, as well as Australia, are here and ready to help in case a new wildfire ignites.” 

The weather warnings stretch from Santa Barbara, San Diego, Orange, Riverside, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and Ventura counties. The winds are expected to reach gusts of up to 50 mph, along with record-breaking heat, fire danger in these areas is high.

As the fires in Northern California neared containment, the estimated damage assessments were also nearing completion. The latest estimates put the destruction totals over $3 billion, with estimates continuing to grow. The Tubbs Fire alone broke the record as the most destructive wildfire in California’s history. 

The Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands had previously deployed 10 engines and crews through ROSS (Resource Ordering and Status System), coordinated by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group, prior to the departure of the nine additional teams.  

Those resources consisted of two strike teams representing Cedar City, Hurricane City, Washington City, Richfield City, Salina City, Uintah County, Juab County, Sanpete County, Carbon County, the Bureau of Land Management, United States Forest Service, Juab County, State of Utah, Twin Peaks Hand Crew and Layton Fire.