Meanwhile, two local paramedics continue to support crews fighting another wildfire near the California-Oregon border.
Since it started early Saturday, Aug. 18, the Ponderosa Fire has consumed 19,627 acres and seven homes so far in rugged mountain territory southeast of Redding and west of the Lassen National Forest.
The fire is 35 percent contained, and fire officials anticipated more damage to be caused Tuesday.
“The fire is moving pretty quickly,” said Division Chief Andy Kellogg of the Tracy Fire Department, who is coordinating mutual-aid teams from San Joaquin County that are helping fight the raging blaze. “The Ponderosa fire is the big threat in the state right now — 3,050 homes are being threatened.”
Tracy Fire Department Capt. Mark Richardson, firefighters Oscar Sharp and Nathan Howell and Engineer Rubin Cortinas were called to assist the morning the blaze broke out.
Capt. Scott Arganbright arrived Sunday, Aug. 19, to oversee a different set of strike teams from San Joaquin County.
Since their arrival, the Tracy firefighters have supplied crews on the hillsides, canyons and mountainsides with water lines, kept a vigil to spot fire outbreaks, and protected structures.
“Right now, the primary issue is very rugged terrain, high temperatures, low humidity and high winds,” Kellogg said. “Worst type of scenario for this type of incident. They are in an area that essentially used to be wilderness, and now it’s populated with a lot of homes and people — a lot of fuel for the fire.”
Kellogg said that as of Tuesday morning, the fire had reached where the Tracy strike team was deployed.
The Ponderosa Fire is the first to which the Tracy Fire Department has been asked to send firefighters this year, Kellogg said, because earlier wildfires were in parts of the state that had adequate manpower and equipment.
“It’s a process,” Kellogg said. “This is one of the first requests for our county to provide assistance for this year. Because of the locations, we’ve just been not utilized into the system until recently.”
Each strike team is expected to work a 14-day assignment. Tracy firefighters will complete their time Sunday, Aug. 26. At that point, they will have the opportunity to stay if needed, or arrangements can be made to send firefighters from another department.
The process to request firefighters for strike teams is part of the state mutual aid agreement, Kellogg said. The state reimburses local departments for the manpower and equipment they contribute in such situations, and the agreement means help for the Tracy area in an emergency would be a phone call away.
“We provide assistance anywhere in the state of California with an understanding when we need that assistance, we’ve got every piece of fire equipment at our will,” Kellogg said.
Fire officials at the Ponderosa Fire scene reported that they fully expected the number of homes burned to increase Tuesday. But the priority for crews on the ground, Kellogg said, was to get ahead of the fire.
According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, 1,886 firefighters are working on the Ponderosa Fire, using 47 bulldozers and six helicopters.
The fire reportedly continued to burn toward the South Fork Battle Creek Drainage, southeast of Manton and outside of Shingletown, about 170 miles northeast of Sacramento.
In addition to the strike team, Tracy paramedics Steve Bliss and Kevin Meineke have been working with a team of “hotshot crews” at the Fort Complex Fire near the California-Oregon border since Aug.12.
Hotshot crews are firefighters who specialize in forest fires, working nonstop to fight them.
Kellogg said the Tracy paramedics spend days and nights with their firefighters working deep within the forests, either being dropped in by helicopters or hiking on foot over rugged terrain. Their focus is to keep the firefighters healthy, he said.
“They are first responders for the crews working on the fire, who are there to do one thing — fight fire,” he said. “They do it 24-7 for 14 days with two days off, living in the wilderness during their assignment.”
Since they started, the paramedics have treated a couple of injured firefighters who had to be flown out of the dense forest by helicopter. They also encountered a bear that went through their campsite one night, stealing food, Kellog relayed.
According to Cal Fire, the Fort Complex Fire is the result of three fires sparked Aug. 5 by lightning storms that merged in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest and the Klamath National Forest.