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Area firefighters help in California

Eight firefighters from Basalt and Carbondale are among the legions that have been recruited to California to help snuff the hundreds of wildfires sweeping through the state.

Carbondale sent three firefighters west last week with a brush truck specially equipped to fight wildland fires, according to Fire Chief Ron Leach. Firefighters Roger Ball, Aaron Luttrell and Ray Sauvey volunteered to make the trip, Leach said.

Basalt also sent a brush truck with three firefighters, said Fire Chief Scott Thompson. Greg Bailey went as the engine boss with Sean Matta and Garrett Wickre.

In addition, Basalt firefighters Tom McCarthy and Steve Howard went as single resources rather than through the Basalt fire department. McCarthy is serving as an emergency medical technician in the California firefighting effort, Thompson said, while Howard is a division supervisor.

Fire departments across the West can voluntarily sign up to make resources ” trucks and firefighters ” available during summers, Thompson and Leach explained. Through mutual aid agreements, one state can call on the resources from other states. Individuals like McCarthy and Howard can also make themselves available.

California needs all the help it can get. There have been 1,780 fires there in the last two weeks and more than 300 remain uncontained, The Associated Press reported Tuesday. Most of the fires were started by lightning strikes, but some were human-caused. They charred more than 960 square miles and destroyed about 100 structures.

“They have so many things going on they can’t keep up with them,” said Thompson, who has gone on several mutual aid calls in the past.

The Carbondale and Basalt fire districts will be compensated for each day their trucks and personnel assist on the fires. In addition, the individuals are paid for their service. The U.S. government pays for the firefighting efforts on federal lands.

The Basalt fire department netted $160,000 by helping battle forest fires in other parts of the country in 2007. This year’s amount will be determined by days in the field.

Thompson said the experience is invaluable. Volunteers from Basalt and Carbondale work on wildfire skills and get a chance to observe the best techniques in these types of details. The knowledge they return is shared within the departments.

In prior times that local firefighters were needed elsewhere in the country, their service ranged from helping in national forests to being on call in communities to free up other firefighters to battle wildfires.

Leach said the Carbondale and Basalt firefighters have been working together in California. They set a “burn back” on Sunday to create a fire break to stop advancing flames and to create a safe zone, he said. The local firefighters have also been on duty protecting structures from the wildfires, he said.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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