The second crew that the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District dispatched to help fight the massive Detwiler Fire in Mariposa County is expected to return home by today.
But it likely won’t be the last time this year that responders are dispatched to render aid in what some are calling an average year in terms of California’s wildfire season – exacerbated by a number of heat waves that have rolled across Northern California this year, drying out vegetation that rebounded following one of the wettest winters on record.
According to Lathrop-Manteca Fire District Battalion Chief Larry Madoski, who was dispatched earlier this year to the Wall Fire in Butte County, the district’s four-man OES engine just returned from the Detwiler Fire – which has burned more than 80,000 acres and is 65 percent contained – while a second three-man crew is slated to return by today.
The cost incurred for dispatching said firefighters, and the overtime necessary to maintain effective staffing levels in the interim, are being covered by the State of California.
While the dispatched crews stretch resources thin, Madoski said that the experience that firefighters and incident commanders get while responding to multi-agency incidents is invaluable when they return back home and are faced with something similar.
“The nice thing about these is the amount of experience that your crews get in working in a disaster environment, and they bring that skillset back to their home agencies are able to apply those should we ever need it,” he said. “We have no sooner example than to look at the floods of 2017 – how large, complex disaster emergencies like that can unravel.
“It gives those have worked on things like that the chance to be in tune with how those disasters operate, and how it can be implemented on a local level.”
When the San Joaquin River swelled to levels not seen in nearly a decade, Lathrop-Manteca Fire Chief Gene Neely served as the Incident Commander for the coordinated effort in South Manteca for the San Joaquin County Office of Emergency Services – working with farmers, disaster experts and fire personnel to ensure that levee monitoring was ongoing and plans were in place should the unthinkable actually happen.
It was two firefighters from Lathrop-Manteca that first spotted the early signs of a levee breach while patrolling the levees on foot, and through a coordinated effort with local farmers the breach was contained and hundreds of homes and tens of thousands of acres of farmland were spared.
And the level of experience garnered from responding to large wildland fires isn’t limited to just those attacking the fire.
“An incident management team from Cal Fire can run in the neighborhood of $250,000-a-day at full activation,” Madoski said. “We’re able to gather those experiences and bring those back to our organization and our county, where we saw our flood incident management run extremely efficiently – getting key personnel in the right locations at the right time with a successful outcome.”
Madoski said the district will remain ready to respond to whatever call comes there way – sometimes deploying resources immediately upon receiving the call if necessary – and said that the current fire season is about “what was expected” and isn’t tremendously out of the ordinary.
The Detwiler Fire – the largest wildfire currently raging in California – is threatening both the communities of Mariposa and Coulterville, and has destroyed 63 residences, 67 minor structures and 1 commercial structure since it began on July 16. Evacuation centers have been set up at the Sonora Fairgrounds and the MES Shelter in Mariposa.
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