Southern Utah firefighters return home from California wildfires

ST. GEORGE — A procession of fire trucks made its way through the Utah Port of Entry with red lights flashing and could be seen nearly a mile away as crews returned home to Southern Utah Thursday evening.

View from the Port of Entry toward Exit 2 on Interstate 15 northbound where St. George Fire Department’s ladder truck is positioned to welcome home firefighters from California, St. George, Utah, Oct. 19, 2017 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

“Service before self” is one of the core values embedded in the firefighting culture that emphasizes sacrifice for the greater good, bringing a sense of honor and duty to the profession.

That value was on display as a convoy of hundreds of firefighters and dozens of trucks, engines and equipment made its way to California Oct. 13 to join thousands of other crews battling multiple wildfires burning out of control across the state.

The trucks and engines returning home Thursday were greeted by the St. George Fire Department with a ladder truck positioned on the overpass at Exit 2 while flashing emergency lights welcomed the firefighters home.

“We wanted to show them that we were there and glad they made it back safely, and whether there are state lines, county lines or city lines, we’re all in this together,” St. George Fire Battalion Chief Robert Hooper said.

“From one department to another, we were there to show our support for those crews that are going out of state and helping California on the fires,” Hooper said.

A video of the procession that includes footage from Interstate 15 at the Port of Entry as well as the view from the overpass at Exit 2, footage provided by Washington City firefighter Krystle Lake, can be seen at the top of this report. 

Firefighters began battling multiple wildfires Oct. 8 in numerous counties across California, prompting mass evacuations as thousands of acres burned while strong winds fueled the fast-moving fires.

Staging area near Chino, California, where hundreds of firefighters and dozens of fire trucks, engines and brush trucks are in position before deployment, Southern California, October 2017 | Photo courtesy of Kanab Fire Department, St. George News

More than 8,000 firefighters and nearly 137 law enforcement personnel were dispatched to fight the deadly fires, along with more than 1,000 fire engines, over 30 air tankers and 73 helicopters.

The Utah group was initially dispatched to Grass Valley in Northern California but were redirected south soon after, Utah Department of Natural Resources Task Force Leader Ryan Riddle said.

Firefighters from the southern portion of California were sent north to fight fires made worse by weather events; however, that left the southern end of the state scrambling to find additional resources to assist, he said.

“It happened very quickly because so many resources were sent north to contain those fires, but then fires spread to the south, and they needed help,” Riddle said.

Procession of fire trucks and engines returning to Utah on Interstate 15 northbound near St. George, Utah, Oct. 19, 2017 | Photo coutesy of Krystle Lake, St. George News

At that point, the Utah teams were sent to Chino in Southern California and remained there eight days until their return to Utah. They reached the staging area where 10 other strike teams/task forces comprised of more than 50 fire trucks, engines and other firefighting apparatus and hundreds of firefighters were already positioned.

According to the Utah Department of Public Safety, 29 fire engines and their associated fire crews have gone to California, among them are Aurora, two engines from the Cedar City Fire Department, two engines from the Hurricane Valley Fire District, Salina, Kanab and one engine from the Washington City Fire Department.

Northern units included Draper, Pleasant Grove, Provo, Salt Lake City, South Jordan, Unified Fire Authority, West Jordan, West Valley and the Utah Forestry, Fire and State Lands.

The fires in California’s wine country began Oct. 8 and have since chased an estimated 90,000 people from their homes and destroyed at least 5,700 homes and businesses. The death toll rose to 42 as of Oct. 19, making this the deadliest and most destructive series of wildfires in California history.

Read more: Southern Utah fire crews among those going to battle California’s wildfires

In addition to the support from Utah, crews from Nevada, Washington, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina, Oregon and Arizona also responded and provided resources, in addition to other teams from as far away as Canada and Australia.

The California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services coordinated the placement of more than 1,700 evacuees in dozens of shelters across the region, while also distributing more than 40,000 meals, 60,000 liters of water, 2,000 cots and 12,000 blankets and sheets.

Nearly 2,000 soldiers and airmen were deployed from the California National Guard, and, with the help of the Nevada National Guard, supplied 23 aircraft for firefighting support, damage assessment, fire mapping and transportation. The aircraft also dropped more than 800,000 gallons of water and fire retardant.

As of Friday, more than 10,000 firefighters remain in California fighting nine wildfires burning in the state, according to the California Statewide fire summary.

Click on photo to enlarge it, then use your left-right arrow keys to cycle through the gallery.  

Email: cblowers@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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3 Comments

  • youcandoit October 23, 2017 at 1:04 am

    Welcome back home thank you ever so much for all you do.

    • LunchboxHero October 23, 2017 at 8:06 am

      I second that!! 🙂 Does my heart good to see this.

  • mctrialsguy October 24, 2017 at 9:57 am

    Thank you, I witnessed first hand the firefighters that came from all over and fought the fires in California, and saved a friend’s home that surely would have been lost in that fire storm. Sad for so many that lost their homes and lives, so again…..a sincere “THANK YOU!”

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