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San Diego Firefighters Help Battle State’s Largest Wildfire

CalFire firefighter Jake Hainey, left, and engineer Anna Mathiasen watch as a...

Credit: Associated Press

Above: CalFire firefighter Jake Hainey, left, and engineer Anna Mathiasen watch as a wildfire burns near Oroville, Calif., on Saturday, July 8, 2017.

Fire crews from the San Diego area headed north Monday to San Luis Obispo County to help battle the nearly 24,000-acre Alamo Fire, the largest of 14 wildfires currently burning across California.

On Saturday, a Central Zone Strike team left to battle the large wildfire with brush engines and crews from Alpine Fire Protection District, Santee Fire Department, Viejas Fire Department, Barona Fire Department and Sycuan Fire Department, and a strike team leader from Heartland Fire Rescue.

At 6 a.m. Monday, two Metro Zone Strike Teams headed out to join the fight against the central-California blaze. Those strike teams included six engines from San Diego Fire-Rescue Department along with engines from Poway Fire Department, Chula Vista Fire Department, Coronado Fire Department and San Diego-based federal firefighters, SDFRD spokeswoman Monica Munoz said.

The Lakeside Fire Department also tweeted today that it was sending an engine and crews to help battle the blaze.

"Our engine crews assigned to these Strike Teams are responding as part of the statewide mutual aid system, and they possess the experience and training to support the current fire suppression effort in San Luis Obispo," SDFRD Chief Brian Fennessy said.

Each SDFRD engine consists of four crew members "providing leadership, communications and paramedic support," Munoz said. Three of the SDFRD engines are Type 1 and used primarily for defending structures. The other three are Type 3 brush engines designed for controlling the perimeter of a wildfire. Each of the two strike teams is led by a battalion chief and a trainee.

Fennessy said the statewide mutual-aid system that has San Diego-area crews headed north has benefited the San Diego region in the past and will again in the future.

"The State of California has the most robust and functional mutual aid system in the world," the chief said. "We fully support and regularly contribute to this system. As history has demonstrated many times in the past, we will at some point in the future count on this statewide system to provide San Diego the mutual aid support it needs."

The Alamo Fire, which began Thursday, has prompted several evacuations in San Luis Obispo County, Cal Fire reported. It had burned 23,867 acres with just 10 percent containment as of 7:30 this morning and is the largest of 14 wildfires that more than 5,000 firefighters are currently battling across the state.

Here is a closer look at the fires burning in California:

Wildfires driving people from their homes in California and throughout the west have had help from an unlikely source: the rain. Major winter downpours that pulled the state out of years of drought also brought a layer of grass that early-summer fires are greedily feeding on.

"What the heavy rains have done is created a grass crop that we haven't seen in forever," said Santa Barbara County fire Capt. Dave Zaniboni, whose department was battling two large wildfires Monday. "That creates faster moving fires, hotter fires, it carries fire much more readily."

Older, dried out trees and vegetation are especially dangerous for wildland blazes, but enough new and drying grass can provide links between such tinderboxes.

Bennet Milloy of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection says that diseased and damaged trees and dead vegetation from during the drought "can be ignited by the lighter fuels that come from the wet winter," making for better-fed fires.

Cal Fire Map

Despite a hot and dry weekend, crews were making progress against dozens of fires across California, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.

In Northern California, waves of evacuees were starting to return home from a wildfire in the grassy foothills of the Sierra Nevada, about 60 miles (97 kilometers) north of Sacramento, but thousands still remained away from their homes.

Chuck Wilsey returned to his ranch home in Oroville on Monday after evacuating over the weekend, relieved to learn it had been spared by the wildfire, just as he had stayed clear of troubles brought on by a damaged spillway at a nearby dam five months ago.

"I don't know what's worse — fire, or water — it's a toss-up," Wilsey, 53, said after returning to his home Monday afternoon.

The blaze burned nearly 9 square miles (23 square kilometers) of grass, injured four firefighters and destroyed at least 37 structures. Officials couldn't immediately say how many were homes. It was 40 percent contained.

The area burning is southeast of Oroville, near where 200,000 residents downstream from the 770-foot-high Oroville Dam were briefly evacuated in February when the structure's spillways began crumbling. Wilsey's home was far enough away that he didn't have to evacuate from the floods.

His daughter, Krystle Chambers, who lives on the same property, said the one-two punch of floods and fires was taking its toll.

"It's hard, it's rough," she said. "Way too many hits. First it's this side of town, then the other side of town. It almost makes you want to move."

Wilsey was already making new plans in case the fire makes another run at them. He said he was leaving his trailer attached to his truck and telling his daughters to keep prized possessions they couldn't take the first time close at hand.

In Santa Barbara County, at least 3,500 people remained out of their homes due to a pair of fires. The larger of the two charred more than 45 square miles (116 square kilometers) of dry brush and has burned 20 structures since it broke out. It was 20 percent contained.

In Colorado, crews were winding down the fight against a wildfire that temporarily forced the evacuation of hundreds of people near the resort town of Breckenridge. Firefighters built containment lines around at least 85 percent of the blaze.

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