CEDAR CITY – For the first time in its history, Cedar City has dispatched firefighters out of state, responding to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s call for reinforcements to give Washington state firefighters relief and assistance in a series of wildfires that have blazed on for nearly a month.
The decision to send their own did not come easily to city officials, Cedar City Mayor Maile Wilson said. There were in depth discussions with the City Manager, Fire Chief and council members before the final OK was delivered.
“We have, as a city, never sent people outside of our area other than Beaver County, Washington County and Iron County,” Wilson said. “And so when we got the information from FEMA where they requested fire crews from throughout the state to be sent we went through all of the different scenarios, the agreement and everything you would expect us to go through prior to sending someone so far away.”
Taking into account that three Washington firefighters have already died fighting the blaze, Wilson said, danger was an obvious consideration – especially when the volunteers were leaving families at home in Cedar City.
“The fact that Washington and the surrounding areas are under a declared disaster emergency (was prominent),” Wilson said. “We had some guys that were willing to go and had the equipment to go; and where it’s a public safety situation, we realized that at the end of the day, they wanted to go help another community and we never know when it could be us that needs help.”
The main focus of the team sent by Cedar City Fire Department will be to protect houses that are near the edges of the fire range as the flames move closer, City Councilman Fred Rowley said.
“The chief said all of the volunteers were experienced men with good judgment,” he said, adding that the chief’s assurance brought comfort to those making the decision to send the men.
The fires burning in Washington state are devastating. A Twisp, Washington resident, Paul Louscher, said he lives 1 to 2 miles away from where the three Washington firefighters died Wednesday; the firefighters crashed and their vehicle was overtaken by fast-moving flames.
That same night, Louscher said, he was evacuated for the first time in his life.
The fire spread really fast, he said, the hazy, smoke-filled skies overtook his home in just the hour he was home for lunch Wednesday. The Okanogan Complex fire raged, and by the time he got home from work on Wednesday, he said, a level 3 evacuation had been ordered. A level 3 evacuation means leave immediately, fire danger is present or imminent.
“I basically have fires in every direction,” Louscher said. “I didn’t know where to go when I got evacuated. I didn’t know where to go, or what to take – I was throwing (things) – I mean I grabbed pictures, and my social security card, and you know, I tried to think of stuff that I couldn’t (replace).”
As of Monday, Loucher said, his home was still standing, but some of his friends haven’t fared so well. Flames are still a threat, he said, even though they are several miles away at the moment.
“There is a fire camp right down the street from my house though,” he said. “So I am feeling pretty safe.”
Washington firefighters are exhausted, Assistant Chief Brian Schaeffer, with the Spokane Fire Department, said. Full-time and volunteer firefighters have been working tirelessly day and night to keep the flames at bay, he said, and every little bit of outside help that comes their way makes all of the difference in the world.
The incidents that the local resources have been responding to has (sic) just been overwhelming from an organizational standpoint and a personal standpoint too.
People are just … because the fires are in rural areas, they are doing everything they can to survive. Some of them have lost their homes and they’ve lost their animals and livestock. It’s devastating for them to have worked all day and all night and then come home to the destructions and what the fire’s lost them – it’s just been pretty traumatic for the people in those areas.
Cedar City’s finest arrived in Washington State Sunday night-Monday morning, varying reports from the department and one firefighter said. The two volunteers and two full-time firefighters are on a 14-day deployment, he said.
“We’re stationing them at Fairchild Air Force Base,” Schaeffer said. “So they are going to be available for, not only initial attack to give the locals a break, but they will also be plugged into the wildland fires and complexes that we have in Washington.”
The finalized FEMA request for assistance came in Friday night, Wilson said, and by Saturday morning, the men were on their way to Washington. All four of the men sent by Cedar City Fire Department volunteered to go and help, Wilson said, which is a testament to the quality of people who reside in Cedar City.
“We’re very pleased to help,” Rowley said. “And we’re very proud of these young men and their willingness to volunteer. We’re praying for their safety and well-being, along with all of their firefighting brothers.”
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