San Mateo County firefighters are helping fight the growing Northern California Caldor Fire, with a strike team of 22 sent to the area Tuesday to replace a county strike team already there.
“I can only speak for Central County, but I’m very proud of the individuals that we have here who have really stepped up and are doing what needs to be done,” Central County Fire Chief Bruce Barron said.
Crews from Central County Fire, Menlo Park, San Bruno, San Mateo Consolidated and South San Francisco drove up Tuesday morning to the fire as part of a type one strike team. Each department sent around five people, with 22 total, for a two-week assignment. Crews are using common fire engines seen at local stations.
“They were sent on immediate need, which means they will go up and go right to work,” Barron said.
The fresh firefighters will replace a previous strike team sent to the Dixie Fire in mid-August that eventually transferred to the Caldor Fire in El Dorado County. The earlier team had gone to Oregon and Montana before heading to the Dixie Fire, currently at 807,396 acres and 48% contained. The Caldor Fire is now 191,607 acres and 16% contained. Since it started Aug. 14, it has destroyed hundreds of structures and injured five people. Recent evacuation orders were issued for the South Lake Tahoe area, with activity on the fire’s east and northeastern sides, according to a Cal Fire update. Team personnel usually feature a majority of experienced firefighters, with some newer personnel brought along to train and gain experience to balance out staffing.
“Part of going out on these strike teams is the knowledge and the on-the-job training you are getting, and it just makes you a more confident firefighter,” Barron said.
The crews driving up will likely prepare and study topography, weather and logistics on the four-hour drive.
“You do a lot of your research en route to that incident,” Barron said.
The Central County Fire Department serves more than 70,000 residents in Burlingame, Hillsborough and Millbrae. While county fire personnel are taxed, Barron has reassured city officials that the department is fully staffed and ready to respond to local emergencies, noting the county was 100% covered.
“We are fully staffed in-house. So that’s pretty important for our fire board and city managers to understand, and they all know that, and I’m sure that’s the biggest concern for our citizens, that their areas covered,” he said.
Barron said while there has been proactive fuel reduction to reduce fire risk in the county, potential wind and weather hazards are possible. Firefighters find themselves preparing for potential fire threats later in the year and often helping in different areas in California and around the country.
“These fires are just crazy. They are burning into November, December. Fire season used to be over in September. Now they’re just getting extended way out. Now it’s year-round, really,” Barron said.
David Cosgrave, division chief for Cal Fire San Mateo County and Coast Fire, said the fire season has started with an extreme vengeance, with concerns about lightning strikes in the county later in the season. However, the coastal weather influence had kept San Mateo County out of severe weather forecasts so far. He noted that the increased severity and length of the fire season stretches resources.
“Right now, every agency is drawn down and extending resources,” Cosgrave said. “We are going to maintain what we have and reach as deep as we can to mitigate these fires up there while keeping equipment and personnel for here.”
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