Utah Firefighters set to return home after spending two weeks battling California wildfires

Utah Wildfires

RED BLUFF, Calif. (ABC4 News) – After spending two weeks helping fight wildfires in California, a group of Utah firefighters will finally return home on Monday.

Unified Fire Authority’s Matthew McFarland said 30 Utah firefighters from eight different agencies left two weeks ago to fight the approximate 30,000 acre Elkhorn Fire in Red Bluff, California.

McFarland said they didn’t know much heading into their out-of-state assignment, except that they needed to be flexible.

“In our experience, when we arrive, we don’t always know what we’re going to get into. There’s a lot of ways to fight fires. There’s a lot of different assignments that go along with that,” he said.

He added, “We’re going into an area with topography we’re unfamiliar with but we’ve all fought fires in the mountains before. We can deal with that. The fuel type is a really big deal though cause different things burn at different rates and different weather patterns affects that in different ways.”

Since California and Utah firefighters have a history of helping one another, McFarland said answering this call for help was a no-brainer.

“It is NOT an uncommon occurrence for out-of state wildfire resources to come and help us whether it’s hand crews, hot shot crews, even smoke jumpers as well as wildland-specific engines. They come to Utah every single year to help us with our wildfire needs. So it only makes sense that we do the same,” he said.

(Courtesy: Matthew McFarland, Unified Fire Authority)

McFarland says the cost of fighting the fires out of state does not come out of taxpayer dollars. The costs will be paid by the State of California or the Federal Relief Fund.

“People will ask, how is this advantageous to Utah to send our resources to another state? That’s understandable. We’re part of a fire department paid for by municipal taxes paid for by the citizens of Utah,” said McFarland. “But this isn’t costing Utah anything. In fact, there’s a high probability that they might come out ahead on the deal. Wildland fire is a dynamic environment and when you send wildland firefighters to a huge active interagency fire, we gain a lot of experience in that realm.”

While their time in California will provide valuable experience, McFarland said he looks forward to going home.

“I can’t wait to see my daughter. I missed her first day of kindergarten and that’s a big deal to me. More than anything, getting home to see my wife and my family,” said McFarland.

Rosie Nguyen is an award-winning journalist who joined the ABC4 News team as a reporter in January 2018. Her areas of focus include stories about communities of color, minority issues, and social justice.

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