Local fire crews dispatched to Southern California | NevadaAppeal.com

Local fire crews dispatched to Southern California

Andrew Pridgen
Appeal Staff Writer

It’s becoming an all-too-familiar routine.

Two-dozen firefighters from neighboring departments (East Fork, Carson, Lyon and Storey) met at noon Monday in Gardnerville. Five engines with full four-man crews each packed fire-resistant suits, checked equipment and unceremoniously cracked open liter bottles of water – then hit the road.

Five hours later, the crews staged in Chino, Calif., about 30 miles northeast of Anaheim – and deployed immediately to Torrance, Calif., 60 miles north of San Diego, said Carson City Fire Department Chief Stacey Giomi.

“This summer alone, our department alone helped on 22 fires outside our jurisdiction,” said Giomi. “If you compare us to adjoining fire departments, we’re all about the same.”

The local crews joined some 1,000 firefighters from Northern California and Southern Nevada in the fight.

Hundreds more from the California and Nevada departments of forestry were deployed to fires in seven Southern California counties, including Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego.

When local crews arrived, they went right to work, Giomi said.

“We talked to them around 10 a.m. (Tuesday),” he said. “They were just getting their first break – getting ready to go back out there.”

Thus far, more than 500,000 people have been evacuated from Malibu to San Diego as more than a dozen wildfires streak across the arid region.

As of Tuesday evening, five people had died and at least 45 more injured in connection to the fires. Some 375,000 acres are on fire, covering more than 585 square miles.

The fires are fed by the desert winds known as the Santa Anas, a phenomenon that is a result of air pressure buildup in the Great Basin between the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains. Santa Ana winds sweep from the mountains through the lowlands toward the sea.

Sustained winds of 30-40 mph, with gusts of up to 100 mph, have spread the fires.

“The typical commitment for a wildland fire like this is 14 days,” Giomi said. “Just in watching the news and looking at situation reports – it won’t be less and will probably be longer.”

Carson City Fire Department stands at the ready to send more firefighters, Giomi said, especially once this weekend’s Nevada Day celebration is over.

“We have to get by with at least minimal staffing,” Giomi said. “We need staff for Nevada Day, but we can still send more regionally if we need it – and we might.”

Manning the Carson City engine deployed to Southern California are Capt. Eric Bero of Gardnerville, operator Travis Howe of Dayton, firefighter Travis Boggs of Douglas County and firefighter/paramedic Jim White of Carson City.

“We know those crews are tired, but we’re proud of them and we are just giving them our best thoughts,” Giomi said. “It’s a relatively small community of firefighters and those guys are welcomed with open arms down there.”

The Nevada National Guard deployed a CH47 Chinook helicopter and a Blackhawk to be based out of Los Alamitos reserve facility in northwest Orange County.

Thirteen Army National Guard reserves, based out of Stead, left the airfield at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

The pair of helicopters are equipped with water buckets with a capacity of up to 2,000 gallons for the Chinook, 640 for the Blackhawk, and will be based in Southern California for “the duration of the fire,” said Chief Warrant Officer Sean Laycox of the Nevada Army National Guard.

“We plan on replacing the crews this weekend,” he said. “We’ll fly more down in relief; some currently there will stay, some will come home – depending on civilian work schedules.”

A pair of C130 aircraft – four-prop planes which can carry up to 155,000 pounds – also were deployed from Reno/Tahoe International Airport at 9 a.m. Tuesday. The transport planes were set to stop over in Modesto and pick up California guardsmen en route to the Southern California fires.

In all, 25 members of the region’s National Guard were deployed Tuesday, said Sgt. Cheri Cramutolo, public affairs specialist for joint emergency operations center of the Nevada National Guard, based in Carson City.

“We do this often,” she said. “The state of Nevada has an agreement with different states. The last time we were in California was in October 2003 to fight fires. Last month we were in Arizona – it’s a frequent thing, that’s why we know it’s never wrong to be prepared.”

As of press time Tuesday, more than 250,000 people were forced to flee in San Diego County alone, including hundreds of patients who were moved by school bus and ambulance from a hospital and nursing homes.

The high winds are expected to remain in the area through Wednesday, with temperatures reaching up to 100 degrees.

• Contact reporter Andrew Pridgen at apridgen@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1219.