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Manteca sends more firefighters to relieve those on Rim Fire crews

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POSTED August 29, 2013 9:48 a.m.

Relief is on its way for Manteca firefighters in Twain Harte battling the Rim Fire.
Lathrop-Manteca Fire Chief Gene Neely is also coming home.
Neely will be replaced by Manteca Fire Chief Kirk Waters on Friday. Neely has commanded a San Joaquin County strike team that has been on the fire line of two separate incidents since Sunday, Aug. 18.
The fleet of Type-3 engines, which specialize in fighting wildland fires, was originally deployed to the Bridges Fire in Calaveras County before being reallocated to the Rim Fire, near the west entrance of  Yosemite National Park.
Neely was reportedly sleeping at the Tuolumne City base camp on Wednesday, Aug. 21 when the fire ripped through camp.
Waters will assume his post, commanding four-man crews from Lathrop-Manteca, Linden, Clements, Liberty and Thornton.
“My job, as one of the leaders, is to first and foremost keep everyone safe. That’s the most important,” Waters said. “I’ll go up early and get a good report and learn the lay of the land. It’s critical to keep everyone safe in that environment.”
On Saturday, a Manteca Fire strike team assigned to structure support in Twain Harte will be relieved.
Captain Rob Grycel, Engineer Robert White, Traig Smith and Brian Swift will replace Travis Gooch, Wes Chamberlain, Derek DeLeong and Dennis Hatfield.
The four Manteca firefighters manning the Office of Emergency Services engine in Mi-Wuk Village won’t come home until Wednesday, Waters said. In all, that crew will have been deployed for 14 days, fighting a historic fire than ranks among the largest wildfires in California history.
The Rim Fire has charred 303 square miles since it began on Aug. 17, according to the U.S. Forestry Service, making it the sixth-largest wildfire in state history. The cause is still under investigation.
More than 4,000 firefighters from across the state have been called to the Stanislaus National Forest and Yosemite National Park, and yet they’ve struggled to extinguish the blaze. As of press time, the Rim Fire was only 30 percent contained.
The steep terrain, wind and low humidity and fuels (brush and pine needles) have made the fire an almost unstoppable force. The U.S. Forestry Service has classified its growth potential as “extreme.”
Manteca Fire crews have been instrumental in the fire-fighting strategy, working to safe-guard communities along Highways 108 and 120.
On Wednesday, the San Joaquin County strike team in Mi-Wuk Village continued to provide structural support to area residents, who are under an advisory evacuation warning.
The OES crew is captained by Keith Scott and includes: Engineer Derek George, Armando Blanco and Mike Loomis.
On Monday afternoon, the four watched from a bluff near Pine Lake Drive as the Rim Fire crested Duckwall Mountain about three miles away. The fire seemed to slide down the face of the ridge slowly before it was warded off by helicopters and bulldozers below.
“They’re working with the folks that are still up there, evaluating where they would make their stand,” Waters said. “I’ve been on strike teams like that before. You feel like, ‘Hey, I’m protecting this neighborhood,’ and you feel like you’re up there for no reason. 
“Then there’s a spot fire and the wind changes and you’re suddenly in the thick of it. It can change pretty quickly.”

To contact James Burns, e-mail .

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