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Fire district’s top leaders battling major wildfires

California’s wildland firefighting system coupled with the extreme need for firefighters in the midst of an extremely destructive fire season means that positions in cities across the state are stretched thin.

And in Lathrop, that means that those usually calling the shots for the district’s day-to-day operations are having to rely on others to handle the operations while they’re dispatched all over the state.

According to Lathrop Manteca Fire District Administrative Battalion Chief Larry Madoski, who was just recently transferred from the Ferguson Fire outside of Yosemite National Park to the Mendocino Complex Fire, it will be the three other Battalion Chiefs that will be stepping up and operating the district while he and Fire Chief Gene Neely are out fulfilling obligations to Cal Fire until they are relieved.

Neely, who is currently down helping battle the Cranston Fire in Northern Los Angeles County, typically assumes a site leadership position for Cal Fire strike teams during fire season. He is routinely away from the district for more than a month during the hot, dry California summer. Like the City of Manteca, the Lathrop Manteca Fire District maintains Type 1 engine for the California Office of Emergency Services and will respond immediately when called for mutual aid to any of a number of statewide emergency scenarios.

And so far this summer, traditional firefighters have been busy rending aid to professional wildland crews who and trying to keep tabs of fast-spreading, destructive fires that in the last two seasons have started threatening more densely-populated areas.

Currently a strike team comprised of Manteca, Turlock and Modesto municipal firefighters as well as Lathrop-Manteca and Stanislaus Consolidated fire district team members is deployed to the Ferguson Fire, which shut down some of the most popular tourist areas inside of Yosemite Valley last week because of dangerous smoke conditions. According to the InciWeb Incident Management System, the Ferguson Fire has burned more than 62,000 acres north of Mariposa, and so far is only 29 percent contained.

In Northern California, firefighters have been able to get more of a handle on a massive blaze that threatened the city limits of Redding after quickly spreading from a remote reservoir straight into the community of more than 90,000. So far more than 115,000 acres have been burned, and more than 1,000 residences have been destroyed – killing two firefighters and four civilians in the process while seven others have not yet been located.

More than a dozen wildfires are currently raging across California, and the surprising intensity and almost explosive nature seen so far this fire season is being regarded by some experts as “the new normal” – the byproduct of a hotter, drier climate that provides the right conditions for fires to burn out of control faster than responding crews can contain them.

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.