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'Stretched' Fire Crews Get Some Surprise Help

Homeowners are joining the fight, whether they're wanted or not
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 22, 2020 1:30 PM CDT

(Newser) – As wildfires rage throughout California turning forests and homes into kindling, some firefighters are badly short-staffed, and some residents are taking matters into their own hands, the AP reports. In the Santa Cruz mountains south of San Francisco, about 1,000 firefighters are battling a fire over 78 square miles—10 times the size they typically would cover, said Dan Olsen, a spokesman for the state fire agency, Cal Fire. "Put it this way: from an emergency response standpoint, we're stretched," he said. More than 500 fires were burning around the state and some exploded in size Friday to be among the largest in California history. Reinforcements were arriving from 10 states to bolster weary crews but Gov. Gavin Newsom said there still weren't enough people and aircraft.

Brothers Robert and Jesse Katz, who have a ranch in Morgan Hill, worked side-by-side Friday with a professional local crew, hosing down a burning redwood next to a popular hiking trail in Henry Cowell State Park. "The more civilians can do to pitch in, it really will take the burden off of them," Robert Katz said. But Cal Fire's Olsen said civilians can put firefighters in danger: "They don't have the training, the experience and the education we have about staying safe in fires," he said. On Thursday night, crews had to stop fighting fires to rescue people who had become stuck when fire reached their doorstep, he said. But Peter Koleckai credits a neighbor, not firefighters, with saving his home. Koleckai said the neighbor used a high-pressure hose, firefighting equipment, and a generator.

(Read more California wildfires stories.)

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