By Peg Taylor, Volunteer
It was all hands on deck for firefighters in Humboldt and Trinity counties over the weekend.
Twelve fires began Friday, August 5, sparked by thunderstorms that moved across the region. Due to efforts of firefighters, eight fires remained active, earning the name Six Rivers Lightning Complex.
(When there are two or more wildfires burning close together in the same area, they are often called a complex and attacked by firefighters under a unified command).
Firefighters from hundreds of miles around rolled into the region to help fight the fires. Among them were the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians’ Red Hawk Crew of 19 firefighters. The crew from El Dorado County traveled six hours to report for duty.
The 19 firefighters were on the fire line when the fire took an unexpected run and destroyed their two crew transport vehicles. Fortunately, the vehicles were far from the crew and no one was hurt.
Personal items, food, tents, sleeping bags, as well as equipment and gear needed to continue fighting the fire had been in the transport vehicles and were all destroyed.
The crew was left with only the clothes on their backs.
They were in the forest with no transportation out and nowhere to stay.
That night, after walking to a U.S. Forestry Service ranger station, the group could only find lodging an hour away but still had no transportation.
When the American Red Cross was made aware of the firefighters’ situation, they reached out to offer the firefighters a safe place to sleep.
Arrangements were quickly made to transport the group to the Red Cross shelter in Willow Creek.
“I am very proud we were here to be able to assist the firefighters,” said Red Cross shelter manager Angi Irmer. “In a sense, they were also evacuees and lost what personal belongings they had with them. They were so gracious and very thankful for our help.”
“The Red Cross really saved our butts and we can’t thank them enough,” said Chris McClendon, Fire Lead of the Red Hawk crew. “We got beds and help as soon as we walked in.
“They set us up in our own little area in a gym and we were able to sleep all night. We were really well taken care of. The next morning, we met some of the evacuees and got to talk to them. They seemed pretty grateful we had traveled so far to help them. That felt pretty good.”
The 19 firefighters were waiting for a bus to take them home to El Dorado County so they could regroup, restock their equipment, replace lost personal items, and get ready to redeploy to the fire, if needed.
With all that happened to them, they’re ready to go back.
“We go to this neck of the woods multiple times a year,” McClendon said, “So we’re ready to help, if needed.”