In the early morning light Monday, six fire trucks gathered in a Bass Pro Shops parking lot in Northwest San Antonio, preparing to drive to California to respond to the deadly wildfires that have already claimed 31 lives.
“The plan is to be there by tomorrow night,” San Antonio Fire Department Captain Brian Stanush said. “We got 1,400 miles to go, six trucks in our task force, and when we get there we will receive our assignment.”
Twenty-one San Antonio-area firefighters left for Camarillo, California Monday. California Gov. Jerry Brown sent a request for help to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, and more than 200 firefighters from Texas will join the thousands of California firefighters already at work, SAFD spokesman Joe Arrington said.
Fire departments in Bexar County Districts 7 and 8, Boerne, and Schertz also sent men, Arrington said.
SAFD Captain Jarrett Vocke, who has been with the department since 1995, was shaking hands and hugging fellow firefighters on Monday morning. He said most of the firefighters already know each other, as they train and respond to out-of-area requests for help together.
“It’s like a reunion because we don’t get to meet [that often],” he said.
Vocke has worked with California firefighters before, he said, when the Los Angeles County Fire Department was stationed next to his team during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.
“Great group of guys, lots of experience,” he said. “They were here for [hurricanes] Ike and Rita back in those days.”
Most of the SAFD firefighters leaving for California on Monday had also responded to California’s Carr Fire earlier in the summer, Vocke said.
“This may be happening more often,” he said. “The first time this happened was a couple months ago, and we’re here again now … Even the fires in Texas are becoming more severe and more frequent. It’s a weather pattern.”
As Texas and other states send firefighters and equipment to California, coordination presents a major challenge, Arrington said.
“Getting logistics set up, feeding [firefighters and] housing them – it’s something we’re very skilled in because of hurricanes and natural disasters,” he said.