California meets drought-fueled fire season with extra crews

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Before you go close icon
Connecticut Firefighters Head To California To Help Battle Wildfires


LAKEPORT, Calif. (AP) — The firefighters come from near and far, working 24-hour shifts to snuff out an unpredictable blaze that has burned more than 100 square miles in Northern California near a major recreational lake.

They bunk in tight sleepers and eat in a big mess hall. They depart in the mornings with enormous high-calorie sack lunches of sandwiches and cookies as others come back tired, footsore and hungry to their makeshift base at the Lake County fairgrounds.

The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, has listed the fire 110 miles north of San Francisco as the nation's highest priority for crews and equipment. It is the largest of 23 fires statewide and takes up nearly a third of the 10,000 firefighters dispatched in California, which has become tinder box amid years of drought.

Click through to see images of the Rocky fire:

39 PHOTOS
Lake County, California 'Rocky Fire' wildfires
See Gallery
California meets drought-fueled fire season with extra crews
A firefighter lights a backfire as the Rocky Fire burns near Clearlake, Calif., on Monday, Aug. 3, 2015. The fire has charred more than 60,000 acres and destroyed at least 24 residences. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
CLEARLAKE, CA - AUGUST 03: A Cal Fire firefighter is silhouetted by his headlamp as he monitors a backfire while battling the Rocky Fire on August 3, 2015 near Clearlake, California. Nearly 3,000 firefighters are battling the Rocky Fire that has burned over 60,000 acres has forced the evacuation of 12,000 residents in Lake County. The fire is currently 12 percent contained and has destroyed at least 14 homes. 6,300 homes are threatened by the fast moving blaze. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Flames rise from a wildfire near Clearlake, Calif., Monday, Aug. 3, 2015. Officials called for evacuations Monday as numerous homes were threatened by the flames. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
James Logan and his wife Lisa embrace during a community meeting for evacuees as a wildfire burns near Clearlake, Calif., Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2015. Firefighters made some progress Tuesday afternoon with some help from light rain that fell in the area. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
Volunteers who declined to give their names react as a Sheriff informs evacuees that they will need to leave The Moose Lodge in Clearlake Oaks, Calif., on Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2015. The Rocky fire continues to burn and has charred more than 65,000 acres and destroyed 24 residences. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
A firefighter watches a backfire as the Rocky Fire burns near Clearlake, Calif., on Monday, Aug. 3, 2015. The fire has charred more than 60,000 acres and destroyed at least 24 residences. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
CLEARLAKE, CA - AUGUST 03: A Cal Fire firefighter walks by burned out trees during a backfire operation to head off the Rocky Fire on August 3, 2015 near Clearlake, California. Nearly 3,000 firefighters are battling the Rocky Fire that has burned over 60,000 acres has forced the evacuation of 12,000 residents in Lake County. The fire is currently 12 percent contained and has destroyed at least 14 homes. 6,300 homes are threatened by the fast moving blaze. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
CLEARLAKE, CA - AUGUST 03: A Cal Fire firefighter moves away from a tall flame as he uses a drip torch to burn dry grass during a backfire operation to head off the Rocky Fire on August 3, 2015 near Clearlake, California. Nearly 3,000 firefighters are battling the Rocky Fire that has burned over 60,000 acres has forced the evacuation of 12,000 residents in Lake County. The fire is currently 12 percent contained and has destroyed at least 14 homes. 6,300 homes are threatened by the fast moving blaze. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
CLEARLAKE, CA - AUGUST 03: A Long Beach Fire Department fire captain uses a flare to burn dry grass during a backfire operation to head off the Rocky Fire on August 3, 2015 near Clearlake, California. Nearly 3,000 firefighters are battling the Rocky Fire that has burned over 60,000 acres has forced the evacuation of 12,000 residents in Lake County. The fire is currently 12 percent contained and has destroyed at least 14 homes. 6,300 homes are threatened by the fast moving blaze. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A vehicle burned in the Rocky Fire is shown near Lower Lake, Calif., Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2015. Firefighters made some progress Tuesday afternoon with some help from light rain that fell in the area. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Jeff Arnold, of the Long Beach Fire Department, douses flames from a wildfire near Clearlake, Calif., Monday, Aug. 3, 2015. Officials called for evacuations Monday as numerous homes were threatened by the flames. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
Andrew Mehr, of the Long Beach Fire Department, looks on as flames from the Rocky fire approach near Clearlake, Calif., Monday, Aug. 3, 2015. Officials called for evacuations Monday as numerous homes were threatened by the flames. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
Firefighter Joe Darr douses flames of the Rocky fire along Highway 20 near Clearlake, California on August 2, 2015. Thousands of firefighters battled raging wildfires on August 2 in drought-parched California, where officials evacuated entire neighborhoods and closed miles of highway in the path of the inferno, which has claimed at least one life. AFP PHOTO / JOSH EDELSON (Photo credit should read Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)
Cal Fire firefighters watch a back burn while fighting the Rocky fire off highway 20 near Clear Lake, California on August 2, 2015. The fire has charred more than 27,000 acres, and is currently only 5% contained. (Photo credit Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)
Brush and trees burn during the Rocky fire off highway 20 near Clear Lake, California on August 2, 2015. The fire has charred more than 27,000 acres, and is currently only 5% contained. (Photo credit Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)
A Cal Fire firefighter leads a group of inmate firefighters during a burn operation to head off the Rocky Fire on August 2, 2015 near Clearlake, California. Over 1,900 firefighters are battling the Rocky Fire that has burned over 46,000 acres since it started on Wednesday afternoon. The fire is currently five percent contained and has destroyed at least 14 homes. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Inmate firefighters march along highway 20 as they monitor a burn operation to head off the Rocky Fire on August 2, 2015 near Clearlake, California. Over 1,900 firefighters are battling the Rocky Fire that has burned over 46,000 acres since it started on Wednesday afternoon. The fire is currently five percent contained and has destroyed at least 14 homes. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A Cal Fire truck is driven away from flames as the Rocky fire burns near Clear Lake, California on August 2, 2015. The fire has charred more than 27,000 acres, and is currently only 5% contained. (Photo credit Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)
Cal Fire firefighters watch a large plume of smoke as it rises from the Rocky Fire on August 1, 2015 near Clearlake, California. Over 1,900 firefighters are battling the Rocky Fire that burned over 22,000 acres since it started on Wednesday afternoon. The fire is currently five percent contained and has destroyed at least 14 homes. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Oceanside Fire Department captain Greg DeAvila monitors a burn operation to head off the Rocky Fire on August 2, 2015 near Clearlake, California. Over 1,900 firefighters are battling the Rocky Fire that has burned over 46,000 acres since it started on Wednesday afternoon. The fire is currently five percent contained and has destroyed at least 14 homes. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Inmate firefighters monitor a burn operation to head off the Rocky Fire on August 2, 2015 near Clearlake, California. Over 1,900 firefighters are battling the Rocky Fire that has burned over 46,000 acres since it started on Wednesday afternoon. The fire is currently five percent contained and has destroyed at least 14 homes. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
In this long exposure, lights from a car streaks by as flames and a huge plume of smoke rise into the air as the Rocky fire burns near Clear Lake, California on August 2, 2015. The fire has charred more than 27,000 acres, and is currently only 5% contained. (Photo credit Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)
Cal Fire firefighters monitor a backfire ahead of the Rocky Fire on August 2, 2015 near Clearlake, California. Over 1,900 firefighters are battling the Rocky Fire that burned over 22,000 acres since it started on Wednesday afternoon. The fire is currently five percent contained and has destroyed at least 14 homes. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Firefighter Joe Darr douses flames of the Rocky fire along Highway 20 near Clearlake, California on August 2, 2015. Thousands of firefighters battled raging wildfires on August 2 in drought-parched California, where officials evacuated entire neighborhoods and closed miles of highway in the path of the inferno, which has claimed at least one life. (Photo credit Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)
The Rocky fire burns near Clear Lake, California on August 2, 2015. The fire has charred more than 27,000 acres, and is currently only 5% contained. (Photo credit Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)
Firefighter Joe Darr douses flames of the Rocky fire along Highway 20 near Clearlake, California on August 2, 2015. Thousands of firefighters battled raging wildfires on August 2 in drought-parched California, where officials evacuated entire neighborhoods and closed miles of highway in the path of the inferno, which has claimed at least one life. (Photo credit Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)
Oceanside Fire Department captain Greg DeAvila shoots a flare into dry brush during a burn operation to head off the Rocky Fire on August 2, 2015 near Clearlake, California. Over 1,900 firefighters are battling the Rocky Fire that has burned over 46,000 acres since it started on Wednesday afternoon. The fire is currently five percent contained and has destroyed at least 14 homes. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A large plume of smoke rises from the Rocky Fire on August 1, 2015 near Clearlake, California. Over 1,900 firefighters are battling the Rocky Fire that burned over 22,000 acres since it started on Wednesday afternoon. The fire is currently five percent contained and has destroyed at least 14 homes. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Goats run away from their pen after firefighters freed them as the Rocky Fire approaches on July 31, 2015 in Lower Lake, California. Over 900 firefighters are battling the Rocky Fire that erupted to over 15,000 acres since it started on Wednesday afternoon. The fire is currently five percent contained and has destroyed 3 homes. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Flames from the Rocky Fire approach a house on July 31, 2015 in Lower Lake, California. Over 900 firefighters are battling the Rocky Fire that erupted to over 15,000 acres since it started on Wednesday afternoon. The fire is currently five percent contained and has destroyed 3 homes. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A firefighter monitors flames from the Rocky Fire as it approaches a home on July 31, 2015 in Lower Lake, California. Over 900 firefighters are battling the Rocky Fire that erupted to over 15,000 acres since it started on Wednesday afternoon. The fire is currently five percent contained and has destroyed 3 homes. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Firefighters spray a hose at a fire along Morgan Valley Road near Lower Lake, Calif., Friday, July 31, 2015. A series of wildfires were intensified by dry vegetation, triple-digit temperatures and gusting winds. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Flames from the Rocky Fire approach a house on July 31, 2015 in Lower Lake, California. Over 900 firefighters are battling the Rocky Fire that erupted to over 15,000 acres since it started on Wednesday afternoon. The fire is currently five percent contained and has destroyed three homes. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Burned trees are seen along a dirt road near where homes were lost as a result of the Rocky fire near Clear lake, California on August 02, 2015. Thousands of firefighters battled raging wildfires Sunday in drought-parched California, where officials evacuated entire neighborhoods and closed miles of highway in the path of the inferno, which has claimed at least one life. Some 6,000 homes were evacuated as 21 large fires burned in the bone-dry western US state, which is in the throes of a historic drought. A total of 121,000 acres (49,000 hectares of land have burned so far, according to figures provided by the state. (Photo credit Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)
Burned signs are shown on a road near Lower Lake, Calif., Friday, July 31, 2015. A series of wildfires were intensified by dry vegetation, triple-digit temperatures and gusting winds. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Firefighters tend to a back fire operation at left under smoke from fires along Morgan Valley Road near Lower Lake, Calif., Friday, July 31, 2015. A series of wildfires were intensified by dry vegetation, triple-digit temperatures and gusting winds. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
An air tanker drops a load of fire retardant while fighting a large grass fire, Monday, July 27, 2015, in Elverta, Calif. Firefighters from multiple agencies, with at least a dozen fire engines, several aerial tankers and helicopters battled the flames that burned at least 75 acres and threatened dozens of homes in the suburban community just north of Sacramento. No injuries or cause of the fire have been reported. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Firefighters water down a hot spot while fighting a large grass fire, Monday, July 27, 2015, in Elverta,Calif. Firefighters from multiple agencies, with at least a dozen fire engines, several aerial tankers and helicopters battled the flames that burned at least 75 acres and threatened dozens of homes in the suburban community just north of Sacramento. No injuries or cause of the fire have been reported. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

The good news is state fire officials prepared for a drought-fueled fire season and staffed up early with several hundred more firefighters than previous years, Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said.

"We're definitely at a medium to high level of activity but we're not at extreme, where we are low on resources by any means," he said. "That helps us out if there are new fires."

Across the U.S., 118 fires are burning on 2,757 square miles, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise.

About 17,200 people are fighting those fires, but resources are not tapped out yet, center spokeswoman Robyn Broyles said. If civilian crews run low, officials can call on national guard and military crews.

August is the height of fire season, and while the number of fires nationally is below average, the 9,361 square miles burned to date is about 50 percent above average. Most of that — 7,731 square miles — has been in Alaska.

On Wednesday, an entire small town in Washington remained under evacuation orders because of a growing wildfire.

About 300 people in Roosevelt, just north of the Oregon border, evacuated Tuesday. The blaze grew to more than 15 square miles and was threatening 350 homes.

In California, the Department of Fire and Forestry Protection has responded to 4,200 fires this year — 1,500 more than average, Berlant said.

The biggest fire is in rugged, parched terrain in Lake, Yolo and Colusa counties.

More than 13,000 people have been required or urged to leave their homes, cabins and campsites; at least 39 homes have been destroyed. The fire's cause is under investigation.

Some of the 3,400 firefighters on the blaze have been here since it started a week ago. The fire isn't expected to be fully corralled until at least Monday.

As much as firefighters love the work, fatigue inevitably sets in.

"This is our seventh day," said Seaton King, a battalion chief with the Pasadena Fire Department in Southern California. He returned from a shift protecting structures and cutting away low tree limbs.

"You kind of get used to it, but it's still taxing in terms of being up and available for those 24-hour work cycles."

California fire officials say their biggest concern is that forecasts call for lightning that could spark more blazes.

Since July 1, when the new fiscal year started, Cal Fire estimates it has spent $63 million battling large wildfires. Last fiscal year, the agency spent an estimated $434 million.

Bills for firefighting are adding up across the country. On Wednesday, the U.S. Forest Service released a report showing that rising firefighting costs are impacting national forest conservation, restoration, recreation and management programs.

Firefighting costs now consume more than 50 percent of the Forest Service's budget, compared with just 16 percent in 1995. They are expected to comprise two-thirds of its budget in 10 years if left unaddressed.

At the fire camp here Wednesday, freshly returned firefighters in blue sat at long tables and dug into bowls of fruit, corned beef hash and fried eggs. They told jokes and drank coffee named after Justin Bieber, Johnny Cash and Metallica, to indicate strength.

Fire trucks parked outside hailed from Long Beach, Los Angeles and Riverside. Nearby were large white mobile sleepers that could fit 45 weary firefighters. Some preferred to pitch a tent.

"It's tiring work, no doubt about it. But most of these guys are in really great shape, and they thrive in this environment," said Hugo Patino, Modesto Fire Department battalion chief.

Mike Burt with the Glendale Fire Department in Los Angeles County said his crew received a call to help last Thursday morning and was in Lakeport that afternoon.

"I'd like to put my feet in an ice chest basically, but I won't do that," he said, laughing. "That would feel pretty good."

___

Associated Press writers Kristin J. Bender in San Francisco, Nicholas K. Geranios in Spokane, Washington, and Jeff Barnard in Grants Pass, Oregon, contributed to this report.

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.

From Our Partners