Spokane firefighters fight devastating California wildfires
On Friday, October 13, with wildfire season winding down in Washington, Spokane area firefighters headed south to help fight the Santa Rosa complex fires devastating Northern California. Strike Team Ten was comprised of 12 firefighters and three apparatus, led by Spokane County Fire District 8, with City of Spokane, and Chelan Fire and Rescue.
Working 24 hour shifts with 24 hour breaks in between, the team was sent on the first day to a neighborhood where 37 homes had completely burned to the ground. The devastation was like nothing they’d seen before. IAFF Local 3711 member Kevin Krepcik helped one family sift through the ashes and was rewarded with the discovery of a box of silver coins that had survived the blaze. Krepcik noted that the homeowner was unusually calm in the face of the devastation all around. Turns out she had just earned the unfortunate distinction of experiencing two of California’s most destructive fires. The coins were twice baked, she said, lucky to have survived when a previous residence was destroyed by the 1991 Oakland firestorm.
In all, some 10,000 firefighters came together to combat the deadliest wildfires in California’s history. The fires started October 8 and consumed 213,000 acres, destroyed more than 5,700 structures, and killed 42 people. The Spokane strike team was one of ten provided by Washington State in response to a request from Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC). One-hundred-ninety-three firefighters from 45 fire departments and 30 IAFF locals answered the call. Crews worked fire lines, put out hot spots, provided structure protection, and removed hazards so that residents could return safely to their properties. Through EMAC, California funded the strike teams and reimbursed fire departments for expenses incurred to cover the team members’ shifts at home.
Strike Team Ten was deployed for 18 days, including four days of travel, but returned to Spokane October 24 when the fires had been contained. Although they have returned home, the firefighters thoughts remain with the people of northern California and the work that remains.