Treasure Valley firefighters halfway done with aid mission in California

Posted at 5:24 PM, Dec 14, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-14 19:24:08-05

Firefighters are hard at work in California,  trying to tame the Thomas Fire as it continues to burn. So far, the flames have scorched more than 237,000 acres.

The fire is now 30 percent contained, and the group of Treasure Valley firefighters — from Boise, Star, Meridian and Kuna — sent out to assist are almost halfway done with their two-week mission.

On Wednesday, Dec. 13, the Idaho team worked a 24-hour shift, helping to clear a stretch of highway.

“We worked with chainsaws and big chipping and shredding machines to clear brush off the highway for about two miles,” said Boise Fire Captain Brian Ashton. “So it was a long day and night.”

Ashton says the area hasn’t had any rain in 250 days, and with humidity at less than 10 percent and temperatures around 80 degrees, crews are working in extremely dry conditions.

“Watching the fire behavior that we saw yesterday was different than what we have at home,” Ashton said. “Just because it burns so rapidly here, and it’s so hot and so fast, that was definitely new to a lot of us.”

Evacuation orders have been lifted and area residents are returning to their homes, grateful for the work of the thousands of firefighters tackling the fifth-largest fire in California history.

“We stopped at a local coffee shop this morning to buy a cup of coffee, and we weren’t able to get a wallet out because they covered it for us,” Ashton said. “They wouldn’t let us pay. The woman wouldn’t even let us put money in the tip jar for her. So that’s pretty overwhelming. These people are devastated here with losing a lot of things and they’re pretty grateful for the firefighting effort.”

The Treasure Valley fire crew hopes to wrap up their mission around Dec. 21. After that, they’ll begin the two-day drive back with their fire engines, hopefully making it home by Christmas Eve.