Firefighters from San Diego gave first-hand accounts of the devastation left behind by mud and rock slides in Montecito last week.
Part of the Urban Search and Rescue California Task Force 8 received the call last Wednesday to head north with a K-9 team made up of five firefighters and two search dogs.
Their mission was to find anyone who may still be alive under the mud, rocks and debris.
“I’ve been on fires before, I've seen structures burn, it's always shocking to see, but this was -- we took a bunch of pictures and it's still hard to describe.” Heartland Fire Department Captain Matt Kirk, Stella's handler, said.
“It was incredible watching him work," San Diego Fire-Rescue Department (SDFD) Captain Brent Brainard said of his K-9 Decker. "He's done searches before but not for 10 hours.”
Brainard and Kirk spoke of the challenges facing the search dogs and the handlers.
“The mud was anywhere from my calf to waist high,” Kirk said. “That's almost [Stella's] whole body, trying to walk, trying to jump. Anytime she tried to jump on something, her back legs would sink in so it was a real challenge for them.”
Brainard recounted a time when he and Decker were walking through a sheet of mud and fell into a pool that was hidden below.
“I've been a firefighter for 20 years. This was like nothing I’ve seen before to that magnitude," SDFD Battalion Chief and task force leader Dan Froelich said. "We've been at hurricanes recently, fires -- this is a different type of emergency.”
Unfortunately, the team did not find anyone alive.
They do, however, believe they help bring closure to those searching for loved ones.
“We did our best and gave everybody a chance," Froelich said. "And if there was someone to be rescued out of there we would have found them."