AUSTIN (KXAN) — Around 200 firefighters from Texas are on their way to help battle the deadly wildfires taking place across California. Gov. Greg Abbott announced the deployment Sunday.
There are three wildfires: The Camp Fire in Northern California, Woolsey Fire and Hill Fire in Southern California.
“At this point, we’re going to Southern California to assist with the Woolsey Fire,” Palmer Buck, division chief with the Austin Fire Department, said. “That’s their initial destination, but once they get into the state, they could go anywhere in the state depending on the need. With the expected increase in Santa Ana winds, that’s where the Texas firefighters are going at this point.”
Of the 200 total firefighters deploying, about 40 come from Central Texas fire departments. Those crews left early Monday afternoon and it will likely take at least three days to make the trip. The plan is to stay around two weeks, but they could be there longer.
“We’re actually having to plot our route, taking ice and freezing precipitation in mind,” Buck said.
Lake Travis Fire Rescue has three firefighters on the way to assist.
“It’s something that we’re willing to do. It’s a minor sacrifice to take care of some people that are losing a lot right now,” said Battalion Chief Eric Carlson with Lake Travis Fire Rescue. “Helping out our brothers and sisters, and not just in firefighters, but you’ve got different groups — rescue groups out there. You’ve got police officers. All those groups are working as hard as they can. They’re going to start hitting that fatigue, if they haven’t already, and some of them have had little to no break.”
The Kyle Fire Department is sending four firefighters and is working to adjust the agency as needed.
“We run ten guys a shift, so we’re sending four out and we’re losing one a shift and assistant fire chief,” Chief Kyle Taylor said. “Luckily the state will pay us back for the overtime.”
The local fire departments will also be reimbursed for their response to the wildfires, but all agree their focus right now is to respond to the help that’s needed in California.
“That’s kind of the ethos of fire departments anyways,” Buck said. “Mutual aid is something that has been part of the fire department culture since it’s been formed.”
“It’s a good feeling to know that Texas public safety has got together, figured out a good way to get a lot of resources to help each other out — to help out those communities that are really, really in need,” added Carlson.
Firefighters will be working 12 to 16-hour days. Many deploying from Central Texas have a structural firefighting background.
“The expectation is that they might be put in to protecting structures and fighting fires in neighborhoods,” Buck said.
Chief Taylor said his department previously deployed one firefighter to help in California. He hopes the four firefighters deploying will bring back knowledge that can eventually help Texans.
“They have different terrains,” he said. “They have the Santa Ana winds. We get high winds here and we have outbreaks once every three or four years, whereas they get it every year, so they can work with the guys from California and learn a lot.”
According to the city of Round Rock’s twitter page, the Round Rock Fire Department will be sending firefighters, and trucks to help battle the wildfires.
The Texas Forest Service is also sending 27 people to assist with the wildfires and they will split duties among the three fires.
The Central Texas crews anticipate they will get their first assignment on Wednesday. As they get closer to the state, they should have a better idea of where that will be.