West Coast on fire: Kaibab firefighters head to California
WILLIAMS, Ariz. — A seventh person was killed in the raging Northern California wildfires Aug. 4 as nearly 5,000 firefighters are battling the blazes in triple-digit temperatures, low humidity and shifting winds.
Around 400 fire personnel from Arizona, including 75 engines, have joined the battle to suppress 18 wildland fires in the Golden State, although the majority are on the Carr and Ferguson Fires.
“These fires are taking out anything and everything in their way, taking lives and destroying property,” said state forester Jeff Whitney in a release.
As the monsoons have rolled into northern Arizona, USFS firefighters with Kaibab National Forest have been able to join the Arizona firefighters in California.
“Conditions on the Kaibab have improved greatly as fire danger has diminished with the arrival of the monsoon rains,” said Bob Blasi, Kaibab Fire Information Officer. “We don’t anticipate having any control issues with new starts so we are able to assist neighboring state agencies who are experiencing extreme fires.”
The Carr Fire has burned more than 1,000 homes, killed six people and burned more than 163,000 acres, and the Mendocino Complex of fires has burned 230,000 acres, nearly topping the state record made last year by the Thomas Fire at 281,000 acres.
On Aug. 4, the National Park Service announced that parts of Yosemite National Park will remain closed indefinitely because of growing fires in areas near and on the park. These areas include Yosemite Valley, El Portal Road, Wawona Road, Big Oak Flat Road, Glacier Point, the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, the Merced Grove of Giant Sequoias, Wawona Campground, Crane Flat Campground and Tamarack Campground.
“This kind of fire intensity is not what we see very often which is posing the challenges they are facing at this time,” Blasi said. “Weather is most often the driving force behind this explosive fire activity and will also be the relief when it finally occurs.”
Kaibab National Forest has sent its helitack crew and four engines to California and Oregon, including three Type 6 and one Type 3 engines, and 14 personnel. Blasi said the personnel will likely be tasked with patrolling, structure protection and initial attack, but could also lay hundreds of feet of hose for hotshots and ground crews in steep country or help with mop-up.
Despite the lower threat of wildfires in northern Arizona, Blasi said the Kaibab retains personnel in the event of local fires.
“If we get something that exceeds our capabilities, we can always order additional resources to come help,” Blasi said.
Blasi said the firefighting community is tight-knit and there is comradery in the ranks, especially when there are fire fighter fatalities.
“The job is inherently dangerous and as unfortunate as it is, when death does occur, it brings people’s compassion to the forefront,” he said.
No relief is in sight as the National Weather Service has forecasted more hot and windy conditions in Northern California with several Red Flag Warnings around the state.
California Gov. Jerry Brown toured Redding neighborhoods decimated by flames and called on President Donald Trump to help California fight and recover from the devastating wildfire season.