As wildfires rage around the state, from Humboldt and Siskiyou counties to Yosemite National Park, Sonoma County fire departments have dispatched a large number of firefighters to assist.
On Friday, Rancho Adobe, Windsor, Sonoma Valley, Santa Rosa and Cloverdale fire departments each sent one engine with three to four firefighters to form a strike team, said Doug Williams, Windsor fire chief and regional coordinator of the state’s fire mutual aid system. The strike team headed north, first to Humboldt County to provide backup for local fire departments and then to Siskiyou County to fight the Little Deer Fire in the Klamath National Forest.
“It’s a function of what’s going on” around the state, he said, referring to extremely dry conditions and resulting blazes requiring a large firefighting response.
The assistance comes as Gov. Jerry Brown on Saturday declared a state of emergency to help free up firefighting resources and secure federal funding. Brown said the number and size of wildfires would require a combined response from departments throughout northern California.
Some Sonoma County departments have sent other fire engines as well: Glen Ellen and Gold Ridge departments dispatched an engine each, with several firefighters, to help a Napa County strike team fight the Oregon Gulch Fire. That fire is burning its way through southern Oregon and Siskiyou County in California, scorching more than 35,000 acres. Bennett Valley Fire Department sent an engine to accompany a Lake County strike team on the Lodge Lightning Complex Fires, burning in northern Mendocino County.
And Santa Rosa and Sonoma Valley departments have each sent an engine and firefighters to the Siskiyou County Beaver Fire. Those two engines are on loan to the departments through the state Office of Emergency Services with the understanding that, when the engines are needed for state wildfires, the city departments will provide them and the firefighters to staff them.
“It’s a good number of people going out,” said Gold Ridge Battalion Chief Darrin DeCarli, whose fire chief, Dan George, is in charge of mutual aid operations for the county. “We probably won’t be sending anyone else out of the county any time soon,” he said, adding that the county has to ensure it has enough people on hand to tackle any emergencies that arise locally.
Sonoma Valley Division Chief Bob Norrbom said his department is already stretched thin with nine firefighters dispatched: Four to the Little Deer fire, four the Siskiyou fire, and one division chief to Mendocino’s Lodge Lighting Complex fire to act as a safety officer.
“Having nine people out is pretty tough for us,” he said. “We’re managing, but we’re also not sending anyone else.”
Departments participating in the state’s mutual aid system make themselves available to provide support to other agencies on a rotating basis, so long as they’re not tied up with other fires. The firefighters commit to at least one 7-day rotation at a time.
All firefighters are compensated for their time on the fires by the state, not local fire departments.
Norrbom and other fire officials were looking anxiously at the forecast for Monday night and this morning. It called for light rain and lightning storms and firefighters were hoping the lightning would not spark more fires.
“Hopefully we’ll get enough rain,” Norrbom said.