After several sleepless nights, Lamar County Firefighter families get to sleep soundly now their firefighter is home from assisting in the devastating California wildfires.
Powderly Volunteer Firefighter Trace Bussell, Reno Volunteer and Allen firefighter Michael Fox, Paris fire captains Connor Wideman and Drew Boren and Paris Fire Department’s Deputy Chief Randy Crawford made it home late Tuesday night.
Stationed near the Sierra National Forest Southwest, near Whiskey Falls, the group spent two weeks aiding the fire lines working the Creek Fire. According to reports, the Creek Fire has burned more than 302,000 acres, and its containment is at about 39 percent. Cal Fire believes Creek Fire will be fully contained by Oct. 15, originally expected by Oct. 31.
“It was long and hard,” Bussell said, “almost every night we were camping in the woods, miles from the nearest town. We also had to hike for miles up mountains, to be able to begin back-burning the fire.”
Back-burning is when firefighters create a new fire, burning in the opposite direction to stop the larger fire’s advancement.
Helping the forest service and Cal-Fire perform back-burns, Boren said they helped protect a community surrounding the East side of Bass Lake in Madera County, California.
“We patrolled the fire line throughout the night while on shift to look for spot fires from the back burns,” he said.
Crawford said working the fire line is nothing like they’re used to in Texas.
“In Texas, most fire lines are flat and you can most times get a truck to it,” Crawford said. “There the fires are on the mountain. All fire suppression efforts were done by hand, and in most cases, you have to walk to the fire line.”
Working 24-hour shifts alongside the others, Wideman said they worked closely with Cal-Fire and hotshot crews from all over the country.
“We are all now able to take something back to our departments such as different techniques to fight wildfires in the future,” Wideman said. “It was a different type of firefighting due to the topography and fuel – brush, heavy timber, dead trees.”
He said the fire was intense and burned rapidly, and he’s never experienced an area as dry, “a small ember would ignite an entire tree in a matter of minutes.”
Boren said working the California wildfires was challenging because of the terrain and altitude.
“Some days we were working on steep terrain and carrying 40-50 pounds of gear up and down the mountain,” he said. “There were days we calculated we had hiked around 10 miles while constructing a hand line.”
Crawford said every fire they work, whether in Lamar County or in California, they learn something new.
“They have a different way of fighting fire than we use in Texas, but they have it perfected there,” he said.
Bussell said working the California wildfires was a new experience, and in his five years with Powderly VFD, “I have never worked anything of this scale.”
“Much of everything I have learned, I will be able to bring home to better myself and PVFD,” Bussell said.
By helping California, Boren said he has broadened his understanding of how fire behaves in California-like weather and terrain conditions.
“It can change at any second,” he said. “It was rewarding to see how thankful the local residents and firefighters were to have us there.”
Crawford echoed Boren and said, “Everywhere we went, everyone we talked to was so grateful for us being there. The men and women we worked with for California were grateful for the help.”
Boren said he got home late Tuesday night, “and I’m glad to be back home to my family and in my own bed.”
Wideman said the same – “It was such a relief to be home and see my wife and kids.”
Bussell said they were welcomed at Dallas’ Love Airfield with open arms.
“There were dozens of Dallas residents and employees clapping for us with multiple posters cheering us on,” Bussell said.
At this time, it’s unknown if these firefighters will return to California, however some say they would be more than happy to help.
“I haven’t heard anything official,” Bussell said. “Though I would be more than happy to return to California to help in any way I can.”
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