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Utah firefighters head back to California, less than 2 days after returning

Firefighters gathered Sept. 9, 2020, in West Valley City before heading to California to help battle wildfires. Photo: Meghan Thackrey

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah — A group of Utah firefighters will go back to California to help fight growing wildfires, just after returning home from the same mission. 

After crews evacuated more than 200 hundred people by helicopter this weekend in California due to fast-moving wildfires, that state’s governor put out a call for help.

Several Utah agencies from across the Wasatch Front sent equipment and some of their finest firefighters to California this morning. 41 firefighters from Draper, Provo and Park City gathered in West Valley City before heading to the Golden State.

Utah firefighters on second California trip

34 of the 41 firefighters already did a ‘tour of duty’ in California this summer.  And Unified Fire Authority (UFA) spokesman Matthew McFarland says 13 of them returned less than two days ago.

“It’s good for continuity of leadership, familiarity of the area, and command structure,” said McFarland. “But it is a really quick turnaround.”

The two teams should arrive in Reno, Nevada, tonight.  There, they will receive instruction on which fires they will fight, McFarland stated.

Final destination still to be determined

“There’s no guarantee we’ll be working the same fires we were last week.  And the governor of Oregon also sent an EMAC.  So, our destination could change by the time we arrive in Reno,” said McFarland.

An EMAC is a governor-to-governor state declaration of emergency, which allows states to share resources with each other in times of disaster.

Oregon has more than 35 wildfires burning — some caused by downed power lines.  As of Wednesday, 100,000 homes and businesses were without power and several towns are under evacuation orders.

Opportunity for trainees to learn

The teams headed to fight fires include some wildfire trainees.

“This is a great opportunity for our firefighters to learn how to deal with large scale fires,” said McFarland. “They can bring back these skills to our state and use them when we need it.  Because Utah always gets its own large scale fires each year.”

Currently, there are 90 wildfires burning in California; 24 of them are considered large scale.  The total acreage burned from the wildfires is 5,300 square miles —  the size of Connecticut.

“When I was there last week, I was on top of a ridge where I saw three separate fires.  Two of them were completely unmanned because there aren’t enough resources to fight them all,” McFarland said.