Turlock

Dozens from Stanislaus grabbed go-bags, dropped everything else, to fight Camp Fire

Modesto Fire Department crews, part of Task Force 4819 with a Modesto Fire Captain as the Team Leader, prepare a search and rescue engine on Friday November 9, 2018. The crew is assigned to the Camp Fire in Butte County.
Modesto Fire Department crews, part of Task Force 4819 with a Modesto Fire Captain as the Team Leader, prepare a search and rescue engine on Friday November 9, 2018. The crew is assigned to the Camp Fire in Butte County.

Twenty minutes.

That’s how quickly most firefighters from Stanislaus County had to be on the road when called up to help battle the Camp Fire in Butte County.

A total of 44 personnel from within the county have been deployed to the wildfire, which as of Monday morning was at 113,000 acres, with 25 percent containment, according to the Stanislaus County Office of Emergency Services (OES). They’re serving as strike team and task force members, EMT/paramedics and more.

The local firefighters are from the Modesto, Turlock, Stanislaus Consolidated, Hughson, Burbank Paradise, Patterson and Keyes departments, and more requests could be coming, Stanislaus County Deputy Fire Warden Eric Holly said Monday morning.

Though deployment notice can be short, it’s not much of a surprise, said Turlock Fire Department Capt. Kevin Tidwell, who’s serving as a public information officer at the Camp Fire command base. “Those of us qualified to go out have been paying attention to what’s happening,” he said of the fires burning in Butte and Ventura counties. Their families know the likelihood of the firefighters being called to help.

Each firefighter has a go-bag, or red bag or out-of-county bag, as Turlock personnel typically call them, Tidwell said. “We’re supposed to be self-sufficient for an extended period of time. We have a minimum commitment of 14 days to plan for.” Depending on the progress against a fire and their assigned duties, they could get home sooner or have their deployment extended to 21 days, he said.

So in addition to their turnouts, equipment and gear, the firefighters have their uniforms and necessities, including underwear and socks and shoes. If they’re not sure where they’ll be, they take tents, cots and more.

Tidwell is at the incident base that’s supporting all 4,500 personnel assigned to the Camp Fire. It’s like a miniature city, he said, with food services, sleep trailers and places to do laundry.

But that base takes a couple of days to set up, said Modesto Fire Department Chief Alan Ernst, who has 11 of his firefighters in Butte County. His personnel worked their first 48 hours straight, he said. “They packed MREs (meals ready to eat), water, everything they need to be on their own for 72 hours.”

Modesto’s deployed personnel includes its Brush 1 rig, with a four-person crew assigned to Task Force 4208; its OES light rescue vehicle, with a four-person crew assigned to state Task Force 4819; along with a captain and a battalion chief as task force leaders.

By phone from a conference Monday morning, Ernst said both crews “are actively engaged” in fighting the fire. He’d just heard from the task force leader of Brush 1, which is working just outside of Chico and on its first night saved multiple houses from burning.

In addition to Tidwell, Turlock Fire has deployed six other firefighters.,including the four-person OES E339 crew, a battalion chief serving as a task force leader and an engineer assigned as a fire-line EMT.

What are they seeing? “Through the whole area is a lot of devastation due to the Camp Fire, a lot of civilian fatalities and towns and communities majorly affected,” Tidwell said by phone Monday morning. “So far, there are 29 confirmed civilian fatalities.”

Holly, Tidwell and Ernst said that Stanislaus equipment will remain in Butte as needed, with crews being rotated between there and home. And while local firefighters are deployed, departments are being fully staffed, they assured. “Turlock Fire is proud to be a partner in the California mutual-aid system. Tidwell said. “The guys at home are backfilling the positions.”

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