Local firefighters could end up on front lines of California wildfires

Caravan including members of SAFD, other agencies, left town Monday

By Katrina Webber - Crime Fighters Reporter

SAN ANTONIO - A group of local firefighters eventually could end up on the front lines in the battle against wildfires that have been ravaging California.

The team, which includes members of the San Antonio, Schertz and Grey Forest fire departments, as well as Bexar County Fire District 7, boarded their engines and firetrucks Monday morning and set out for the West Coast.

"We're just happy to be able to help," said Joseph Arrington, a spokesman for the San Antonio Fire Department. "We got the call from the state, and about 200 firefighters from Texas are going to be en route."

Arrington said eight members of SAFD's Wildland team are taking part in the mission in response to Gov. Greg Abbott calling Texas firefighters into service Sunday. 

"Any time we have an outbreak in Government Canyon or somewhere like that, a fire, they're the ones that we would send in first," Arrington said.

Wildfires in northern and southern California have left dozens of people dead and destroyed thousands of homes.

The local task force will head to southern California first, Arrington said.

"All of these guys are the best of the best," said Chief Kevin Clarkson, of Bexar County Fire District 7. "Certainly, we're concerned. We want our firefighters to be safe and to be able to help those people in California."

Clarkson is also the resource coordinator for the Texas Intrastate Fire Mutual Aid System, an organization that usually coordinates wildfire responses throughout Texas. 

He said this is only the second time in its history that those resources are being used out of state. The first time was also in California, where TIFMAS helped battle a wildfire north of Sacramento in the summer.

Some of the firefighters who were are heading that way now were also part of the earlier effort, Clarkson said.

"These guys have really worked hard to get to where they are," he said. "And they're squared away and ready for this mission."

Exactly what that mission will be has yet to be determined.

Clarkson said it could involve anything from fighting the fire on the front lines, to reopening and manning fire stations in that region.

"L.A. County has some 60 fire stations that are blacked out right now because they're out responding to the wildfires," Clarkson said.

Also to be determined is exactly when the group will return and whether it will be in time for them to have Thanksgiving at home. 

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