Eleven firefighters from the North County Fire Protection District are among the thousands of firefighters battling the fires burning across Northern California, considered among the deadliest in state history.
North County Fire Chief Steve Abbott said two fire engines – one out of Station 2 and the other out of Station 5 – and a smaller Type 6 truck ended up traveling to Napa after first being deployed to Anaheim Oct. 9 to assist with the Canyon Fire. On Oct. 11, the North County Fire personnel was released from the Canyon Fire and reassigned to the Northern California fires.
“You can keep resources for 14 days, so when they’ve got resources that are already assembled in a strike team and they’ve got a lot of time left, they’ll often redeploy them,” said Abbott.
Abbott said there are two geographic area coordination centers (called “GACCs”) in California – a Southern and a Northern – that coordinate the distribution of resources for fire operations.
“In Southern California, each county is its own operational area,” said Abbott. “The operational area will determine what resources from that area will go, and then the GACC will determine how many resources are needed from each operational area.”
Abbott said the fire engine out of Station 5 is an OES (Office of Emergency Services) engine that is always on call to be sent out of town.
“That’s an engine the state of California provides to agencies,” said Abbott. “It’s a nice benefit. You get a free fire engine. You are simply obligated to staff it and send it to these types of fires when requested.”
Abbott said the firefighters on the road check in daily.
“They’re required to check in every day to just let us know what’s going on and what their needs are – right down to does their family have any needs at home,” said Abbott. “These guys are gone for two weeks at a time and things happen at home.”
Abbott said California has a mutual aid system that works fluidly.
“If a fire breaks out here, the first thing we do is draw from agencies immediately around us within our zone,” said Abbott. “We have a zone automatic aid agreement. Without any special permission or requests, we have pre-determined draw down levels that each agency can supply to another area.”
This is the 10th anniversary of the Rice Fire in the Fallbrook area, and Abbott noted that other agencies were called upon to man the North County Fire stations since all North County Fire personnel were out fighting the blazes.
“During the Rice Fire we had other agencies that were backfilling our fire stations,” said Abbott. “Sometimes strike teams will exist just to provide the day-to-day operation for another city.”
Abbot added that mutual aid among fire agencies extends beyond state lines.
“We had resources here from Arizona when we had the Rice Fire,” said Abbott. “There are state mutual aid compacts for this reason.”
California has a lot of fire resources. According to statistics garnered by Abbott, there are 874 registered fire departments within the state, and 37 fire agencies within San Diego County. On Oct. 12, there were 10 Type 1 engines (structure), 35 Type 3 engines (brush), and 12 hand crews from San Diego County committed to fires throughout the state.
“California is pretty well-equipped,” said Abbott. “We can throw an awful lot of resources.”
As many as 10,000 firefighters from throughout California and surrounding states battled the Northern California wildfires that – as of Oct. 17 – had scorched more than 200,000 acres, destroyed or damaged more than 5,500 homes, displaced 100,000 people and killed at least 41.