A group of Lakeside firefighters is back home after helping fight the Dixie fire in Northern California.
The Dixie fire is the nation’s largest burning wildfire and has blackened nearly 800,000 acres, with no end in sight. Some local firefighters told NBC 7 that resources are stretched thin as fire crews answer the call from across the state.
Fire Captain Jose Corona, with the Lakeside Fire Protection District, said fire crews have been working 24-hour shifts during 14-day deployments.
Cpt. Corona returned home from deployment earlier this month. He described the firefight on the fire lines, “You just feel so small, big trees, 30, 40, 50-foot-tall trees. And it’s coming right at you. You have the embers in your face. You’re trying to get away, trying to protect structures.”
The Dixie fire has destroyed hundreds of homes and has threatened thousands more.
“They have the evacuation zones, we drive by, and just seeing them [residents] be so thankful and not knowing if their house survived or not. It kind of hits your heart, like, ‘We’re trying to do the best we can,'” Corona said.
Lakeside firefighters have been rotating teams of seven out for six weeks. One team is on the fire-lines right now, as another prepares to make the 15-hour trek north.
Firefighter Paramedic for the Lakeside Fire Protection District, Shannon Johnson, said he volunteered for a second deployment.
“I like going up there. It’s kind of what we train to do. And while you may do that here, you may not. If you go up there, you’re for sure going to be doing your job. You’re going to be fighting the fire. It’s also an opportunity to work on your skills, see a new county,” said Johnson.
Meanwhile, the work continues at home, while crews fight the fire in Northern California.
“We are down guys, a little bit, and I think everyone around the county is in that same boat. When you talk to people, they’re already down guys, everyone has people up there [fighting the Dixie fire], so you know you’re not alone,” said Johnson.
Johnson and Corona have been working overtime to help balance out the workload and protect the communities in and around Lakeside.
“Times like this can be a little challenging, but that’s when it’s most rewarding also,” Corona said.
Corona and Johnson thanked their wives and children for supporting them through the firefight up north and at home.
“I feel good knowing I can be out there protecting the communities and helping people out, knowing that everything at home is going to be great because she [Corona’s wife] can handle everything,” Corona said.
Johnson recounted the excitement behind reuniting with his family after a long deployment.
“You just can’t wait to see them again. It’s actually my favorite part of the strike team, is coming back. Its kind of like absence makes the heart grow fonder,” Johnson said.
The firefighters told NBC 7 they plan on continuing to rotate crews out as long as they’re needed for the Dixie fire. It’s not clear when safe containment will be reached.