Unified Fire Authority got an email around 2 p.m. Friday asking for whatever help they could provide to fight the wildfires raging in northern and southern California.
After shuffling schedules for the firefighters who would remain, UFA decided to send 11 people and three fire crews. Firefighters from Lehi, Bluffdale, Cedar City and Draper are also going, UFA spokesman Keith Garner said.
It’s the first time Utah crews have been sent to California to fight wildfires since one of their own — Draper Fire Chief Matthew Burchett — was killed battling the Mendocino Complex Fire in August when a tree fell on him.
Garner said crews, who are leaving early Saturday morning, definitely have Burchett on their minds. Burchett spent most of his career at UFA, but was working for Draper when he died.
“I almost feel like that’s why a lot of guys are jumping on this is, because we want to go and just kind of be able show our support, show we’re still willing and this is what we do," Garner said. “We’re coming to help, and despite what’s happened, this is how we do it, and we’re not going to shy away.”
UFA firefighters are headed to northern California to fight the wildfire that burned through the town of Paradise, killing at least nine people, The Associated Press reported Friday evening. Draper crews are also headed to that area. California officials have said the blaze is the most destructive the state has seen since record-keeping began.
The fire is burning about 120 miles from the Mendocino Complex Fire.
Lehi crews are going to southern California to fight the fires in southern California,Lehi Fire Captain Bronson Smith said. Those fires have forced about 250,000 people, including celebrities living near Malibu, from their homes, according to The Associated Press.
That fire, burning west of Los Angeles, has burned at least 150 homes, according to The Associated Press.
Draper Fire Chief Clint Smith said he’s not entirely sure what the four firefighters and one engine will be doing in California, but he said they wouldn’t let the summer’s tragedy interfere with their task, even if it is weighing on them.
“Certainly, we don’t forget our experiences from the past," he said, “but again, we’re not letting that deter us either, in what our jobs are and what our mission is.”
Crews will likely be gone for two weeks before returning to Utah.