CARSON CITY — Thirty-five Nevada-based fire trucks and their four-member crews were sent to Southern California on Monday to help fight the raging wildfires there.
The crews are working under the supervision of the Nevada Division of Forestry. They were to first report to a staging area in Chino, just east of Los Angeles, and then were to be assigned by local fire authorities to wherever they are needed.
The Nevada National Guard is to send two helicopters this morning and their 10 crew members to Ventura County, where the coastal city of Malibu has been devastated by the fire.
One of the helicopters is a CH-60 Blackhawk, which can be used for to evacuate people who need medical care. The other is a CH-47 Chinook which can evacuate people and haul a 2,000-pound bucket of water.
Mike Dondero, fire management officer for the Division of Forestry, and Capt. April Conway, a National Guard spokeswoman, said their agencies have long-standing agreements to assist California in emergencies. “We share resources all the time,” Conway said.
Kelli Baratti, state fire mutual aid coordinator, said the agreements between regional agencies — both state and local — take into account drawdown levels that establish how much equipment and how many personnel can safely be spared to go to Southern California.
The winds coming off the mountains in Northern Nevada are similar to the Santa Ana winds in California that are fueling the devastating wildfires, Dondero said. Because fire danger still exists in dry Nevada, Dondero said he made sure that enough equipment and firefighters remain in case of fire emergencies in the Silver State.
“We have sent a lot, but we have not depleted out resources here,” Dondero said. “We sent the amount we can draw down to.”
About 5:30 a.m. Monday, Dondero received the request from the California Office of Emergency Services to send as much help as possible.
He lined up the strike teams made up of Division of Forestry employees and professional firefighters from departments in Reno, Sparks, Carson City, Lake Tahoe, Minden-Gardnerville, Elko, and Storey, Lyon and Clark counties. All of the firefighters are experienced in fighting wildland fires, Dondero said.
A strike team is composed of five fire engines, 20 firefighters, a team leader and a trainee, Baratti said.
A Southern Nevada strike team spent Monday preparing to go to California, but the plan was scrapped late in the day because the firefighters from Clark County, Henderson and Mesquite aren’t certified to fight wildfires, said Scott Allison, a spokesman for the Clark County Fire Department.
California officials had asked only for firefighters trained to battle wildfires because of the mixed terrain where the fires were blazing, he said.
North Las Vegas has a small group trained to fight wildfires, so it would send one engine if needed, he said.
As of Monday evening, however, the only non-forestry firefighters from Clark County headed to California were two volunteer firefighters from the Mountain Springs station who joined the state teams heading for California.
The Red Cross in Las Vegas was preparing to send as many as a dozen volunteers to Southern California to help fire victims.
Firefighters throughout Nevada have a history of traveling in and out of state to fight wildfires. Last year strike teams headed north to fight large fires in central Nevada.
Baratti likened the current situation to what she called the “fire siege” of 2003, in which Nevada crews also were called out four years ago to the date. Between Oct. 21 and Nov. 4 of that year, 15 fires in many of the same areas of Southern California killed 22 people, destroyed 3,640 homes and blackened 750,000 acres.
Baratti said Nevada’s costs for assisting in this year’s fires would be paid initially by California’s Office of Emergency Services.
The costs will be “sorted out at the end when we find out which agencies have jurisdiction,” she said.
Review-Journal staff writer Brian Haynes and the Associated Press contributed to this report.