Utah firefighters deploy to California wildfires

SALT LAKE CITY - Nearly 100 Utah fire fighters are hitting the road to southern California to help fight massive wildfires that have left tens of thousands of people evacuated, and more than 150 homes torched.

Unified Fire said the State of California asked for 50 teams to help. Utah is responding by sending several crews from around the state.

‘Ready to respond’ is always a fire fighter’s motto, and this kind of response is no different.

“This is a special situation where we're able to go above and beyond our own community,” said Eric Holmes with UFA.

California crews are battling blazes in Ventura County and near Los Angeles. The flames swiftly swallowed up 65,000 acres, leading to the shutdown of highways, widespread evacuations, and huge power outages.

“There’s just no way to understand how hot, how smoky, how nasty, how destructive and how many people are displaced at this point,” Holmes said.

But, they understand what needs to be done.

“We have 18 people, six apparatus ready to go tomorrow morning,” he said. “I think that’s pretty amazing.”

As the crews got the engines ready and packed supplies Wednesday evening, Holmes said they were preparing for any kind of assignment.

He’s not sure exactly what kind of work they’ll be doing. He said they could be called to fill in on 911 calls for local fire departments whose resources are drained, or they might be sent straight to the front lines of the wildfires.

“Everybody going down there is aware of what could possibly happen,” he said.

The team is planning to be deployed for up to two weeks, but Holmes said depending on how things play out they could stay as long as 21 days.

“It’s what we’re trained to do,” Holmes said. “It’s what we’re here to do. It’s what we love to do.”

State Emergency Manager Joe Dougherty said the agencies listed below are deploying crews as part of the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), which is a state-wide system of mutual aid.

• Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands
• Unified Fire Authority
• Salt Lake City
• South Jordan
• West Valley City
• Layton
• Sandy
• Provo
• Sterling
• Fairview
• Draper
• Castledale
• Uintah City
• Price
• Cedar City
• Washington City
• Hurricane Valley

Dougherty said if all agencies deploy, the assistance tallies up to 98 personnel and 32 vehicles. He said the northern Utah teams will rally at Dillards at the Provo Town Center Mall at 7 a.m. on Thursday, December 7 before heading out. He said they’ll meet up with the southern Utah teams in St. George on their way down to southern California.