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The 'New Normal:' California Firefighters Face Record-Setting Wildfire Season


NORTHERN CALIFORNIA  – Already this year, California wildfires have burned more than 1.1 million acres. The state is deploying thousands of firefighters daily to try and control the flames. 

Given the hot and dry conditions, it appears that California will easily surpass last year's record 1.3 million acres burned.

Cal Fire spokesman Mike Mohler told CBN News "This is not new. This is normal and we don't see it ending anytime soon."

Still, the state hopes to gain control by strategically placing fire camps near the biggest outbreaks. These mini-cities house and deploy firefighters each day. 

Fighting Fires 24/7

CBN News visited a camp south of the Carr fire in Redding. More than 4,000 firefighters have called it home for multiple weeks in July and August. Most are working 24-hour shifts.

Firefighter Scott Fisher told CBN News he's not sure when he's going home. "We're thinking at least 14 days but we could get extended another seven on top of that," he said.

As these firefighters save lives and property they try to keep themselves out of harm's way. Already this year six have died fighting California fires.

Opportunity to Serve and Make a Difference is What Motivates 

What motivates them to keep going in such difficult and dangerous conditions? One firefighter told CBN News he sees it as a duty to serve and an opportunity to make a difference.

Another from the Los Angeles area said all the firefighters in the state are helping out the different regions. "We've seen a lot of fires down in southern California and I've seen the devastation of our own backyard and we appreciate it when people come up so we're trying to return the favor," he said.

At the Carr fire camp firefighters line up for breakfast at 6 a.m., followed by a briefing that highlights the weather, strategy, and the constant reminder to stay safe. Then they're on their way for a minimum of 24 hours. "With the sieges, we've seen some have been going 72, 96 hours on the line just because of resources," said Mohler.

If that seems excessive, firefighters say it's actually very practical. Mohler explained, "the operation has to be 24 hours because once you in-brief somebody that plan has been made for 24 hours. Those people have been briefed on that plan that they physically have in their hand and they're going to carry out that plan. If we were going to shift say to 8-hour shifts we would have to go through that whole cycle and minutes mean everything in a firefight."

As the Weather Goes, So Goes the Fire

So does the weather. Just as it appears they're finally gaining control, firefighters often see that progress quickly disappear says Daniel Potter, another Cal Fire spokesman. "Just one simple change in the wind – it'll jump our containment line and then it's back off to the races. Could add another week or two," he said.

These firefighters also know they're likely facing another record-breaking year in 2018. One told CBN News "the lack of rains we've had all through California – the fires seem much more aggressive than they have in the past."

There's no one culprit responsible for these fires. They're fueled by drought, heat, dead trees and construction in wildland areas. Most Californians realize the extreme threat. If they don't know someone directly affected they've likely breathed the smoky air that travels far from the fire locations. 

The state will spend close to two billion dollars just to fight fires this year plus whatever it takes to repair everything from utility lines to burned out guard rails. 

Thousands of homes and businesses must be rebuilt and many Californians will either pay higher insurance rates or be dropped because of the fire risk.

Meanwhile, tough months are still ahead. Forecasters say the wind traditionally picks up in the first part of autumn and triple-digit temperatures are not uncommon.

Californians Show Deep Appreciation for Firefighters

But as thank you posters across hard-hit areas attest, many Californians have developed a deep appreciation for those willing to sacrifice it all – for the sake of those in harm's way. Those on the front lines say that support is an encouragement.

"It really builds them up," said Mohler. "It's almost like a recovery process for first responders to know that the community's out there and they support what they're doing.

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