Summit County firefighters arrive in California to help battle deadly blazes
Several Summit County firefighters arrived in California on Monday to help the nearly 10,000 firefighters who are already on the West Coast battling the deadliest wildfires in the state’s history.
Three firefighters with the Park City Fire District and two others from the North Summit Fire District, along with dozens of other personnel from Utah, were expected to join the efforts in both ends of the state. They are part of the Wasatch Back Task Force, which includes engines and personnel from Wasatch County Fire District, Park City Fire District and the state.
Three major fires are raging across California — the Camp, Woolsey and Hill fires — and have scorched more than 225,000 acres since Nov. 8, forcing the evacuations of thousands of residents within the fire’s paths, according to Cal Fire. Forty-four people have died as a result of the wildfires and thousands of structures have been destroyed. The Santa Anna winds have helped fuel the blazes.
Park City Fire Chief Paul Hewitt said the three Park City firefighters arrived in Ventura County Monday evening and were immediately put to work. The Woolsey Fire, which is located in Ventura County, covered about 96,314 acres and was considered 35 percent contained as of Tuesday morning.
“They should be right in the middle of it now,” Hewitt said Monday evening.
The men will work 24-hour shifts with 24 hours off, Hewitt said. The deployment is expected to last two weeks. While the assignment is on a volunteer basis, the firefighters will be paid for their time. Hewitt added, “They definitely didn’t have to go.”
Hewitt said he was able to spare three firefighters and a brush truck because the fire season in Summit County is coming to a close.
“It just happened at a time where I could let them go,” he said. “When we are in the heat of the season, I can’t do that. But, I felt comfortable that the area is well covered.”
Hewitt has never been deployed to a large-scale fire out of state, so he didn’t really know what his crew could expect in California.
“While these are some of the finest guys, I mean they really are amazing individuals, I still end every conversation with: Be safe,” he said. “It is absolutely horrific what is going on with these fires. I can’t even fathom. Let’s hope we never have to.”
North Summit Fire Chief Ken Smith said it is the first time the fire district has had enough resources to send personnel to help with an out-of-state fire.
Like Hewitt, Smith said he has never been deployed to a fire of a size similar to what they are experiencing in California. But, he said the situation is dangerous whether a fire is 200 acres or hundreds of thousands of acres.
“The risk associated with fighting a fire doesn’t change with size,” he said.
Hewitt said it is his mission as fire chief to ensure a similarly devastating fire never happens within Park City or the Snyderville Basin. He assumed the North and South Summit Fire Districts have the same motivation.
“I drove through Brian Head after (the fire there) happened and it paled in comparison to the acreage that is burning in California,” he said. “It is unprecedented. It is devastating for California and to think that it is happening only a couple states over is horrific. We hear about all kinds of other devastation from hurricanes, tornadoes and active shooters, and we’ve lost at least 30 Americans to wildfire.”
Meredith Reed was elected to a two-year term as chair of the Summit County Democratic Party and said she sees an opportunity to ride the so-called blue wave that saw a Democratic surge nationally and within the state.