Lodi's new state-owned fire engine is having its first big fire mission - it's one of five San Joaquin County fire vehicles battling a blaze in Santa Cruz County.
The call came at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, when state fire crews asked for help to fight the blaze that had started Wednesday at 7:16 p.m. in Bonny Doon. Firefighters and equipment from Lodi, Woodbridge, Stockton, Manteca and Tracy fire agencies formed a strike team and soon headed south.
They spent hours on the fire lines in rugged terrain with no cell phone reception. Shortly before noon Friday, the Lodi crews called in to report that they were moving back to the staging area to get some rest and refill their supplies, said Lodi Fire Battalion Chief Ron Heberle.
How long they will be gone depends on the fire. They are committed to the assignment for 14 days but could come home earlier or be replaced by other area firefighters, said Woodbridge Fire Capt. Darin Downey. His chief, Mike Kirkle, is leading the local strike team.
Such calls are not uncommon in the hot summer months. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection employs full-time firefighters, but they run out of crews when battling multiple fires. Large fires are currently burning in Santa Cruz, near Tracy and in Shasta County, along with smaller blazes.
For Lodi, the one difference from previous years is the engine they took to Santa Cruz. The state loaned one to the city in May, for use locally as well as when called for outside help.
Previously, Lodi sent one of its one engines, but this time they took the state vehicle. Among other advantages, it has a separate engine for pumping, which allows the vehicle to continue driving while putting water on a fire, Heberle said.
How long it will be gone remains to be seen - by Friday night the fire was only 15 percent contained and had burned more than 5,000 acres. Lt. Gov. John Garamendi declared a state of emergency Friday, to try to get federal resources involved.