Tahoe firefighters called out of town
The wildfires are miles away, but they still have the power to affect the firefighting agencies in the Lake Tahoe Basin.
All four South Shore fire agencies have sent teams to Northern California and Nevada, but residents need not worry, officials say, the lake is still covered.
“The fire chief has a tremendous responsibility to make sure our own district is covered first,” said Tahoe-Douglas Assistant Fire Chief Bruce VanCleemput. “We never deplete our resources below that point. If during this time we should get our own major fire, we would have enough for an initial response. We very possibly would then have to call our other resources back, and perhaps turn to other districts for help.”
Tahoe-Douglas sent a smaller wildland fire engine and a team of three firefighters to Butte County, Calif., on Aug. 24, where several fires have burned 33,924 acres.
Lake Valley Fire Department sent an engine and four-member crew to Butte County, and their assistant chief was called to lead a strike team. The teams are replaced with new firefighters every five days, giving crews a chance to recover, said Lake Valley Battalion Chief Brian Eakin.
South Lake Tahoe Fire also sent an engine to help fight the blazes and a four-person team. Battalion Chief Scott Douglass said that to replace the absent firefighters, off-duty personnel fill the shifts.
“As soon as we send an engine out of the city, we will call off-duty people so the city is always covered with three engines and three firefighters on each engine,” Douglass said.
The U.S. Forest Service trains new firefighters each season and these people are the ones called for emergency situations. The teams must be available and ready to go within two hours of being notified. Similar “call-when-needed” crews are stationed around the United States, said Mark Johnson, U.S. Forest Service management officer.
“We sent two engines of our normal four to Plumas National Forest and Northern Nevada,” said U.S. Forest Service Dispatcher Jim Hush. “We sent about 10 overhead type people to various assignments, and two 20-person crews. We sent people as far as Shasta-Trinity this year.”
Hush said the Forest Service’s remaining two engines also are being staffed by people on their time off, and a 50-gallon tanker was brought into service. Even though the fire danger in the basin has been high this week, Hush said a major blaze could be contained.
“We’ll be fine because our neighbors have resources. We have air tanker support from Minden and helicopter support from El Dorado, and we have a good cooperative program with the local fire districts,” Hush said.
Johnson said the nationwide mobilization system works.
“We can bring people in very quickly from adjoining forests, Bureau of Land Management, and Nevada Division of Forestry. Nationally, there is no way you can prepare for the worst everywhere. You have to do this large scale mobilization, but within 36 hours you can get 2,500 people to a fire,” Johnson said.
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