Fire crews from Benton, Franklin and Walla Walla counties are on their way to help fight the fires in Northern California.
Six agencies contributed to Southeast Washington Structure Strike Team 1, headed to Napa to help with the Southern LNU Complex fire.
They include Benton County fire districts 1 and 2, Franklin County Fire District 3, Walla Walla County Fire District 4 and the Kennewick and Richland fire departments.
The complex has burned 12,379 acres in Napa County. It is just 18 percent contained.
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Neil Hines, Kennewick deputy chief of operations, said the firefighters are glad to go as the weather in Washington cools and agencies have capacity. They expect to be gone about 18 days.
“Over the last few years, we’ve had a lot of incident management teams from California help us out,” Hines said. “We’re happy to help our neighbors to the south.”
Over the last few years, we’ve had a lot of incident management teams from California help us out. We’re happy to help our neighbors to the south.
Neil Hines, Kennewick deputy chief of operations
Each agency sent four firefighters, Hines said, with Kennewick adding one of its captains, Rusty Bachmann, to lead the team in a command pickup. Benton Fire 1 and 2 each offered an engine, as did Franklin, Richland and Walla Walla.
The engines are built for fighting structure fires, but Hines said the strike team — one of 10 Washington has sent — could be put on any assignment.
That could mean working on the front lines, mopping up other fires, searching for missing people or manning fire stations.
“They’re expecting a lot of wind-driven fires,” Hines said. “There’s obviously a lot of work to do down there.”
Capt. Jason Langston of Franklin Fire District 3 said what makes the work different is the locale. Though he echoed Hines’ confidence in the standardized wildfire training of each firefighter, they still will meet fuels and terrain they’re not accustomed to seeing.
“Most of these deployments are in-state,” Langston said.
Caren Wheeler, district secretary for Benton Fire District 2, said that their crew was sure to take wildland firefighting equipment with them in case they were put out toward the front lines.
She said the last time they sent crews down to California was 2007, for fires in San Diego.
Hines said that the fire season in California still is becoming something everyone is familiar with, because it seems to be year-round. Even agencies as big as Cal Fire, the statewide firefighting unit, doesn’t have all of the resources to respond to such large crises.
“It takes many jurisdictions — everyone pitching in a little bit — to help with these megafires,” Hines said.
Jake Dorsey: 509-582-1405