Stretched to Limit, California Seeks Help

Some crews are working 72-hour shifts
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 20, 2020 5:00 PM CDT
Updated Aug 20, 2020 7:00 PM CDT
As Crews Wear Out, California Asks for Help
Smoke from wildfires hovers over Richardson Bay on Thursday in Sausalito, Calif.   (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

More than two dozen major fires were scorching California on Thursday and taxing the state's firefighting capacity, sparked by an unprecedented lightning siege that dropped nearly 11,000 strikes over several days. More than 10,000 firefighters are on the front lines, the AP reports, but officials in charge of each of the major fire complexes say they are strapped for resources. Some firefighters were working 72-hour shifts instead of the usual 24 hours, and the state has requested 375 engines and crew from other states. "That's going to allow our firefighters that have have been on the front line since this weekend to have an opportunity to take some rest," a state official said. In Marin County, the fire chief said he is waiting for assistance from Montana to arrive this weekend. "Our agency is taxed to the limit," said Incident Commander Mike Smith at the fire near Santa Cruz. Officials there are awaiting help from other states but are having to look further afield than usual, meaning it will take days for crews to arrive, he said.

The US Forest Service can't help because it's busy fighting fires on federal lands. Most of the activity is in Northern California, where fires have chewed through about 500 square miles of brushland, rural areas, canyon country and dense forest surrounding San Francisco. Tim Edwards, president of the union representing 7,000 Cal Fire firefighters, said lawmakers need to allocate more money at a time when firefighters are working 40 to 50 days at a time without real relief. "Here we are, we’re not even into our peak fire conditions, and we don’t have enough resources throughout the whole state because we’re stretched so thin," he said. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who pulled out of speaking at the Democratic National Convention on Thursday, said his state received a federal grant to reimburse some of its firefighting costs. In Southern California, firefighters worked in high heat to increase containment of fires in mountains north and east of Los Angeles. A huge fire also burned in the remote Mojave National Preserve. (A helicopter pilot was killed fighting a fire in Fresno County.)

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