Seventeen firefighters representing five Mendocino County rural fire agencies are currently stationed on the flanks of the Dixie Fire, a 160,000-acre megafire tearing through the pines and peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountains east of Chico. A contingent of Cal Fire’s Humboldt-Del Norte unit has joined the fight as well.
Hopland Fire Chief Mitch Franklin spoke to us about life on the fireline and the shared struggles firefighters across the state experience when providing mutual aid for large incidents.
Chief Franklin told us he is leading a strike team made up of equipment and personnel from Hopland Fire Protection District, Anderson Valley Fire Department, Mendocino Volunteer Fire Department, Redwood Coast Fire Department (based in Point Arena) and South Coast Volunteer Fire (Gualala). Each department brought one of their engines and the Mendocino County strike team is made up of seventeen firefighters hardened by the terrain of the North Coast.
During large-scale wildfires, the California Office of Emergency Services initiates what is referred to as the “Master Mutual Aid” system where out-of-jurisdiction agencies assist in fighting natural disasters. Chief Franklin told us Mendocino County Fire agencies participate in the system regularly going all over the state. He also said working out-of-county fires like the Dixie fire is a form of “pay it forward” and laying the groundwork for others to assist Mendocino County in the future.
The Mendocino County Strike Team began mutual aid on July 10 fighting the Beckwourth Complex in Plumas County, Chief Franklin explained. They were then redirected to the Dixie Fire which currently stands 167,430 acres, 18% contained, and is still considered exhibiting “extreme fire behavior,” as described by Incident Information System.
Regarding the Dixie Fire which has now reached the acreage to be considered a “megafire,” Chief Franklin said firefighters are facing excessive temperatures and low humidity with “crazy fire activity.” He added that it seemed early in the season for fires to be so large and so active.
While working the Dixie Fire, Chief Franklin said the Mendocino County Strike Team has been split between the two main fire camps, one in Chico and one in rural Quincy. Last night, they returned to the Quincy fire camp after a “helluva 24-hour-shift,” as Chief Franklin described it, and they were looked forward to the shower trailer that had just pulled into camp and to having a hearty meal.
Chief Franklin said that California’s Office of Emergency Services just extended the strike team another week totaling a 21-day run.
Not only have Mendocino County firefighters joined the ranks against the megafire, but personnel from Cal Fire’s Humboldt-Del Norte unit have taken up the cause as well. A post from their Facebook page indicates they were recently working the fire train. These trains travel along tracks in wildfires carrying thousands of gallons of water protecting the railroad infrastructure and helping the track serve as a fireline.
To reassure the Mendocino County public, Chief Franklin explained that this sort of mutual aid does not leave the county in a compromised position with seventeen fewer firefighters. Most of Mendocino County’s fire agencies are volunteer-based, Chief Franklin said, and California’s Office of Emergency Services will compensate each department for the engine and personnel they dedicated to a mutual aid request. That money allows these agencies to actually pay these volunteers providing “more coverage for Mendocino County when we’re out of the county.”
Chief Franklin said he anticipates a long fire season ahead of him and reminded Mendocino County residents to stay safe and fire-wise as we navigate the road ahead.