After spending the week helping to conquer a large fire in Lake Tahoe, four Lodi firefighters returned home Friday afternoon.
They, along with 17 other San Joaquin County firefighters, were among two strike teams the county sent to help fight the fire that destroyed more than 250 homes.
"It's devastating up there," Capt. Aimee Murry said. "Out of a group of 10 homes, one was still standing."
Her team arrived Sunday and staged for five hours, ready to be sent anywhere. Their first 12-hour shift was spent in structure protection, and then they were assigned to mop-up.
At one point during mop-up, a reporter asked if the work was tedious. Yes, Murry said, but it's also crucial because it prevents fires from flaring up and starting all over again.
The firefighters left Lake Tahoe late Friday morning and the Lodi firefighters took their engine, which still smelt of smoke, to Station No. 2 on East Lodi Avenue.
Engineer Mark Azevedo and firefighters Craig Mintz and David McLaughlin, who had replaced Todd Wagner on Tuesday, quickly headed home to their families. Murry planned to head home soon, and said she was looking forward to a shower.
The crews had portable showers at their base camp but couldn't take much time, though they did finally get longer showers Thursday night.
It wasn't the first such fire for Murry, who worked for the California Department of Forestry before coming to Lodi 11 years ago.
But the images that stood out most strongly in her mind were that of destruction, and the homeowners who were allowed back in toward the end of the week.
One large home had an ornate entrance marked with huge river rocks and a rock archway. As the firefighters left Tahoe and passed the home Friday, that arch was all that remained, along with an American flag atop a pole, Murry said.
"Most of them were lucky if the chimney was still standing," she said.