Nearly 100 Utah firefighters head to California to help fight wildfires

Flames consume a home as a wildfire burns in Ojai, Calif., on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

On Thursday morning, 98 Utah firefighters departed from Provo to help fight massive wildfires in southern California.

The largest of four wildfires — the Thomas Fire — had burned 96,000 acres as of Thursday morning, three days after it began. The flames threatened several cities near Los Angeles, forcing thousands of mandatory evacuations and destroying nearly 200 homes and buildings, according to the Associated Press, though that number is expected to grow.

The Utah crews come from 20 agencies and are bringing 32 vehicles — including engines, water-bearing trucks and support vehicles for supervisors, according to a news release from the Utah Division of Emergency Management.

California sent out a plea for help from other Western states Tuesday night, after just one day of fighting the rapidly spreading flames.

This is the second call for aid that has come from California this year. Several Utah crews helped fight fires there in October.

About 18 hours after Utah first received California’s plea for help, Unified Fire Authority had assembled a crew of 18 firefighters ready to deploy for at least two weeks — though more personnel were willing, said Eric Holmes, spokesman for the agency.

(Photo courtesy of Unified Fire Authority) Firefighters gather in the morning of Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017 before their departure to aid in efforts to suppress wildfires in southern California.

The firefighters gathered personal gear like tents, sleeping bags and medication, along with their firefighting equipment, and said goodbye to their families. They won’t know until they arrive where they’ll be stationed and have to be “ready for anything,” Holmes said.

He said the quick response time of Utah and other western states to aid California firefighters is “certainly an amazing feat,” but also important is the “human response.”

It’s hard to imagine what it’s really like for the thousands of California families displaced from their homes, facing the hot and dry conditions that come with a wildfire, Holmes said.

“The human element of people willing to help people,” he said, “that’s a really cool story all the way around.”

Over the next couple of weeks, Holmes said the department will send out updates on fire suppression efforts via social media.