I amt was always going to be a difficult year for California firefighters. The fierce heat had already begun weeks before a lightning storm was expected in the state and Kovid-19 and the climate crisis became catastrophe, with fire crews facing record-breaking heinos weather across the West .
Now, the first tired responders are facing fires, which are burning faster and more rapidly than ever before – and this is only expected to make the weather worse. The tension is already starting to set.
“I have never seen anything at this level,” said James Bowran, chief of the battalion of the Oakland Fire Department. In almost three decades on the job, they never saw this fire burning simultaneously.
California saw a fierce and early start to its annual fire season. By the first week of September, a record 3.3m acres had risen in flames. This is 26 times more than the area which was burnt by this time last year. Firefighters are battling about 30 major blazes. Officials said about 4,900 structures have fallen into the rubble and 24 people have lost their lives. The victims include Diana Jones, an emergency medical technician who is voluntarily acting on shelling in Tehama.
According to state officials, more than 14,800 first responders are fighting to stop the fire. “That’s a lot,” said Christine McMore, a resource management communications officer with Cal Fire, “that’s all we’ve got.”
The unprecedented dispersion and intensity of simultaneous fire causes the crew to dilute their dispersal. Kovid has also linked its complications, infection and quarantine requirements to limiting assistance from other states and the number of crew that might otherwise be able to deploy.
“It’s taxing the system and getting to a point where we’ve probably come close to breaking the mutual aid system or tapping it altogether,” Bourone said. When no further aid is coming, it means, more frequent deployments for firefighters in the state for those who go and for those who cover stations to return home.
California also typically relies on inmates to help the working wild animals overcome fires, but many state prisons have been in lockdown or quarantine due to an outbreak of Kovid-19. McMore says they are two of the crew, as a result.
Bourone recently returned from a 14-day stint fighting the SCU Lightning Complex fire that began on August 18 and burned over nearly 400,000 acres, and now leads a strike team over the El Dorado fire in San Bernardino Is posted for.
“Kovid and homeschool are an added extra stress,” he said. His wife works as a nurse in a hospital, and has three young daughters who live at home. “You call home and the kids are like, when is Dad coming home?” It becomes difficult. Your children are frustrated, ”he said.
“My girls are growing up now and I have been doing this for a long time and we have always been very honest with them. They understand that sacrifices have to be made by our family to help keep other families safe and that it is important for society to continue – but it is not easy to leave.
‘This year has been tough for everyone’
This is not just the amount of fire that burns at one time and there is a shortage of firefighters on hand to counter them – the fire itself is getting harder to fight.
Wildlife crew trained to fire flames among Kovid-19 people who live in remote areas, who have fled the cities between Kovid-19, to save lives in exchange for properties Have had to concentrate.
“We’re running to fire, and then the assignment is not to protect structures or to start a fire attack – it’s to get people out,” says Vince Wells, a former fire chief Who served in Contra Costa County, where SCU Lightning is. The complex caught fire in mid-August. Wells recently retired, but is still serving a two-year term as president of the local firefighters association and vice president of California Professional Firefighters, an organization with more than 30,000 members. He hears first-hand experiences from firefighters and chiefs across the state.
“Times are unprecedented. Unfortunately it is not over. “It used to be that you thought about fire from May to October. But now, we are fighting a fire on Christmas day or the following year. “
According to the US National Center for Inter-Coordination, hot and dry conditions are expected in California this year through December, and the events this month are only the beginning of a “significant fall fire season.” Crews are in for a long battle.
“This year has been rough for everyone,” Dr. Said Manda Ohs, a mental health therapist who works with first responders. “Kovid, civil unrest, a political year, businesses and people losing money. It’s just regular life, and then you add fire season and firefighter stuff – they have to come in to fight the fire while their families are still dealing with it. “
She eventually knows the toll, as her husband is a battalion chief. He had just returned from a 26-day deployment when he was sent to a team of 14 firefighters to help with the flames, which were caught in the flames. They had to deploy their last-resort fire shelters, small foldable fire resistant tent firefighters can climb outside when there is no way out. They survived, some with serious injuries.
Deployed under the dark smoky skies at the camp near the Dolan fire, he said many firefighters already insisted in this fight. “Because of what is going on in our personal lives, people are coming in this season. And then you have these record fires that are moving quickly, our resources are so thin, they are waiting for outside resources, and some are left in a hairy situation. “
‘We know what we signed up for’
The life of the camp has also changed. Everyone is trying to maintain their distance, to include the spread of Kovid-19 among the crew and crews. There are hand-cleaning stations, food is distributed in containers through a buffet line, temperatures are taken regularly, and masks are mandatory when others are around. Adjustments are not the problem themselves, but they affect the peer-support systems of teams. “Sitting around the camp, around the dinner table – but he has been removed because of Kovid. People have to eat food by themselves. Oh, they said that they are losing the natural support system.
Even with precautions to be taken, firefighters across the state have fallen ill. At one point in March, more than 10% of San Jose’s entire fire crews were exposed to Kovid-19. A firefighter from the Los Angeles Fire Department died after falling ill with the virus.
Firefighter Edward Gonzalez, a 36-year-old equipment operator stationed in Van Nuys, California, contracted the virus in June and spread the Kovid-19 to his wife who is now eight months pregnant. They both recovered quickly, and he was eager to get back to work. He is grateful to do the job.
“We are fortunate to be able to do so much work for us right now. I know there is going to be a budget shortfall in the city next year and a lot of things can be cut, ”said Edward, explaining why he takes the extra change with a smile. He said that starting his career during the Great Recession in 2008, he noticed that many firefighters lost their jobs and homes. He may be worried if he cuts the city budget next year. “I could see that happening to us – that’s why I’m trying to prepare us and our family.”
At the state level, California Governor Gavin Newsom listed firefighting among his top priorities and included $ 85.7m in his latest budget to help with surge capacity. The funding is the first phase of his plan to bring more than 600 Cal Fire firefighters over the next five years. Still, as cities tighten their belts, local stations can see the cuts, putting more pressure on the crew each year as the fire worsens.
Ohs said a change in mental health support is long overdue, but badly needed. The stigma of seeking help has only faded in the last three to five years, in response to which some people see a growing mental health crisis in a dangerous profession.
This year, Newsom also signed two bills supporting the mental health of firefighters. Senate Bill 542 ensures post-traumatic stress injury protection through workers’ compensation, and Assembly 1116 establishes training guidelines for peer counseling and protects the privacy of those seeking behavioral health services.
Even with more challenging conditions, firefighters are not retreating from the fight. “I know people are being pushed into the border,” Wells said. “We are dealing with heat, over an epidemic, large numbers of fires and lack of resources.”
But, he is aware that the crew will continue to face the challenge until he is asked. “We know what we signed up for,” he said. “When we take an oath to serve our community, committed to doing what everyone does to the best of our ability.”