Their own marathon wildfire season is winding up, so Washington state firefighting crews are heading down to help in Northern California.
More than 65 Washington state firefighters and seven wildland fire engines are headed south to help in the struggle to contain the California conflagrations.
For the fire crews, the new assignment comes at the end of a marathon season here in the Pacific Northwest that is finally winding down with cooler weather and rain.
A 20-person crew based out of the Ahtanum State Forest in Yakima County on Tuesday just finished an assignment at the Teanaway River Fire. They took Wednesday off, then got into their vans Thursday to drive to California.
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A second 20-person crew based out of the Loomis State Forest also will be working in California.
Teams of four or five firefighters are assigned to each of the seven engines.
The dire situation in California prompted an offer of assistance from the state Department of Natural Resources on Monday, according to Joe Smillie, a DNR spokesman.
October’s California wildfires rank among the most destructive in that state’s history. Some 8,000 firefighters are involved in an effort that has included assisting those at risk while trying to save structures and slow the spread of the fires.
Jason Hoerner, the Ahtanum crew boss, said that it’s been a long season, but morale is good and many of the crew are looking forward to a rare assignment outside of Washington.
“Our fellow Americans are in need in that state, and we’re going to help out,” Hoerner said in a telephone interview Thursday afternoon during a break in the road trip to California.
Hoerner said that the crew typically builds fire lines and performs other tasks with hand tools. But when the need arises, they can help rescue people or protect structures.
Hoerner said that the crew’s fire season started back in May and that most of the summer has been taken up in a series of 14-day assignments. The California firefighting assignment will be their 26th fire this year, and he expects crew members will pile up more than 1,000 hours of overtime this season.
The crew will be camping at a fairgrounds in Ukiah County, and assigned to the Mendocino Lake Complex. Those fires have spread across more than 30,000 acres, destroying some 250 homes and threatening another 1,000, according to a fire incident report.
As of Thursday, The Associated Press reports that the fires north of San Francisco have destroyed 3,500 homes and business and killed at least 29 people. Hundreds more are still missing.