AUSTIN — 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.”
The departments from Central Texas 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.
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.”
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.”
The Texas Forest Service is also sending 27 people to assist with the wildfires and they will split duties among the three fires.