Local firefighters return home after two weeks battling Northern California blazes
A strike team of 22 local firefighters returned home Tuesday after spending the last two weeks fighting both the Beckwourth Complex and Dixie fires in Northern California.
The team, which was composed of engine companies from Santa Maria, Lompoc, Santa Barbara City, Carpinteria and Montecito fire departments, was originally assigned to the Beckworth Complex Fire in mid-July before being reassigned to the Dixie Fire. They replaced an original team of firefighters that was fighting the Beckworth Complex Fire earlier in July.
Another strike team will replace the crew who returned home Tuesday, beginning the third cycle of local firefighters sent to offer aid up north.
As of Tuesday, the Dixie Fire had scorched more than 487,000 acres of land, making it the second largest fire in state history. The fire destroyed an estimated 900 structures as of Tuesday and threatened another 16,000, according to national reports.
Jim McCoy, the strike team leader from Santa Barbara City Fire, told the News-Press Tuesday that he could tell early on that the Dixie Fire had potential to be a massive fire.
“You could tell it was a big fire just by the smoke flume, so we got to work right away,” Mr. McCoy said. “You never can predict if it’s going to be the second largest in California history, but it was a big fire we could tell by the conditions. It was very hot and very dry, (we knew) that it had potential to be a big fire.”
During the two-week assignment, Mr. McCoy and his team worked in various areas to contain the fire, including the State Route 70 corridor, the west edge near Lake Almanor, the north fork of Feather River where the fire started and the town of Greenville, which saw three-quarters of its structures destroyed as a result of the fire.
The team helped to “mop up” hot spots in the region, lay hoses and contribute structure defense, which culminated in “some really excellent saves on some houses that were burning or threatened to be burned,” Mr. McCoy said.
As of Tuesday, Cal Fire reported that the fire was only about 25% contained after being active for 27 days. It’s currently burning in three counties — Butte, Lassen and Tehama.
Given the intensity of the fire season already combined with the very dry conditions across the state, Mr. McCoy said he expects a busy season ahead.
“All the indications — with the low rainfall and the fuels and how dry they are — it seems to be a busy fire season,” Mr. McCoy said. “But the good thing is we’re prepared and trained for this and all departments are all good partners.”
“I’m proud that I was able to take this strike team out with really good operational area partners,” he later added. “Our neighboring departments are very good and he had a very successful operation going.”
Looking ahead, Mr. McCoy added that the South Coast fire season could be busy when the Santa Ana winds start blowing, likely in the fall.
Prior to the start of fire season in the region, Mr. McCoy said he recommends that residents in Santa Barbara County develop an evacuation plan in advance. He recommends utilizing the Ready, Set, Go plan developed by the Santa Barbara Fire Department (sbcfire.com/ready-set-go).