Fire crews see grueling summer fighting wildfires in WA, Calif.
Firefighters from Snohomish County teamed with other areas run a lengthy fire hose last week while dispatched to the area around Ukiah, California, which is a town lying west of the Ranch Fire and northwest of the River Fire sites which combined are the Mendocino Complex Fire. The raging wildfires in the dry state had more than 14,000 responders.
SNOHOMISH COUNTY — Local firefighters are protecting lives and land on three fronts— in-district, in-state, and elsewhere— as Washington fires multiply and the Mendocino Complex Fire in California makes history as that state’s largest.
The Mendocino Complex fire spans more than 500 square miles, an area 10 times the size of Everett.
Into the inferno, 12 Snohomish County firefighters have charged.
Fire District 7, Everett Fire and South County Fire each dispatched four personnel to the Mendocino fire, which has claimed more than 250 structures. The fire this week is much more contained.
Snohomish County PUD has also contributed 20 staff who face many of the same harsh conditions as they work to restore power by replacing 1,000 utility poles.
Firefighters are working eight to 26-hour shifts to squelch California’s largest recorded fire said Everett Fire division chief Ric Cade. They’re in the company of 14,000 firefighters from across the country and as far away as Australia.
Each shift has brought another arduous mission.
South Snohomish County Fire’s Leslie Hynes shared the details of the Herculean tasks. Working through the night, crews used hand tools to build fire containment lines. Another day they laid 2,400 feet of trunk line for hoses with an elevation gain of about 500 feet. Local crews have also spent time on “mop up,” Hynes said, putting out hot spots at the River Fire portion of the Mendocino fire. On one rewarding shift they were able to assist homeowners returning to the area.
They may stay as long as three weeks, though two-week deployments are most typical said Fire District 7 spokeswoman Heather Chadwick.
Out-of-state crews create pop up towns amazingly quick, Chadwick said. And while they have almost none of the comforts of home, they receive a warm welcome from those they travel to serve. Crews have been treated to everything from impromptu taco suppers to a makeshift rest center set up at a skating rink.
While the California fires drew national attention and resources last week, crews are battling life-threatening fires in-state, too. Pervasive drought conditions have fueled about 300 fires in Western Washington alone, making it the busiest wildfire season ever according to state Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz. Districts must balance competing priorities, ensuring the safety of residents while partnering in lifesaving efforts further afield.
For smaller districts like Fire District 4, which is experiencing a low staffing situation, that means keeping all personnel in-district said Chief Ron Simmons.
Altogether, Fire District 7 has 10 of its 140 firefighters deployed, the maximum it can send, Chadwick said. Two are in Eastern Washington while four were dispatched individually throughout the state.
South Snohomish County Fire reported one member was sent to a rainforest, fighting the Maple Fire next to the Olympic National Forest. “Fuels have been on the ground for decades or longer, so it is a deep, hot churning fire. The thick ground fuels compounded with extremely steep terrain make it hard to suppress from either the air or ground,” said deployed Deputy Chief Shaughn Maxwell in a statement.
Everett Fire has three of its personnel in Eastern Washington, where a unit from North County Fire is also deployed. The Angel Springs Fire near Davenport has consumed 5,000 acres and more than a dozen buildings.
While resources are stretched thin, officials stress the best thing residents can do is abide by the state’s current burn ban. “You can light s’mores fires” but that’s about it, Chadwick said.
In addition to burn prohibitions, clearing brush away from structures, not using charcoal briquettes and putting out cigarettes properly are all essential. More tips and information are available at www.dnr.wa.gov/burn-restrictions
As for the firefighters, when asked, Chadwick said they don’t need anything, but thanks are appreciated.
“They are doing their job, what they love to do. They are all helpers.”
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