In what could be his last out-of-town fire-fighting tour, Lodi Fire Capt. Sandy Wichman along with three other Lodi firefighters joined a larger strike team Thursday morning and headed south to help fight the Southern California wildfires.
Wichman was among 29 firefighters who left the Ripon Fire Department on two plush tour buses. There were also representatives from Tracy, Manteca-Lathrop, Clements, Liberty, Farmington and Manteca fire departments.
One contingent, including the firefighters from Lodi, was going to San Bernardino County, while the other was going to Los Angeles County, Wichman said.
"You actually have no idea where you'll end up. They can re-direct you at any time," he said, breathing a puff of air into the chilly morning and grasping a cup of hot coffee.
Both groups will likely be assigned night operations protecting structures.
Woodbridge firefighters Ken Harris, Bob Geiszler, Garrett Luke and Jim Coffey headed down as a separate group Thursday to the Cedar Fire in San Diego County, said Woodbridge Fire Chief Michael Kirkle, who is also San Joaquin County's mutual-aid coordinator.
Firefighters from Stockton also went south on their own in a van to replace its crew.
The members of Thursday's contingent will all replace members of two strike teams dispatched to Southern California over the weekend. That group was to be brought back by the same Modesto-based buses and were expected to arrive home Thursday evening.
|Lodi firefighter Mark Azevedo gets ready to load his
stuff onto a bus in Ripon on his way to Southern California on
Thursday. (Jennifer M.
The firefighters are being called on through the Office of Emergency Services to help battle what could be the state's worst disaster. The fires have already destroyed more than 2,800 homes and blackened nearly 745,000 acres.
Firefighters from Lodi apparently saved three buildings in San Bernardino on Wednesday. They spent the night in Lake Arrowhead.
On Thursday, members of the latest San Joaquin County group said they were ready to help out, and the death of a firefighter from Novato on Wednesday didn't seem to faze them.
Earlier this week, more than 50 firefighters and 13 engines from the same fire agencies were dispatched to the Southland.
The county Office of Emergency Services sent an additional engine northward Tuesday evening to help fight a wildfire in Shasta, Kirkle said. The engine came from Stockton Fire Department.
"It's not just firefighters that we monitor," said Mike Cockrell, assistant coordinator of the county's emergency services department.
On Thursday, his Stockton office dispatched 29 workers from the Pacific Gas and Electric Co.'s Stockton district using its utility mutual-aid system. It will help replace poles and restore power.
The dispatch system is also beginning to assess whether mental aid workers from this county will be dispatched, Cockrell said.