July 11, 2008

Boone County Firefighters Heading to California Blazes

Wildfires in California are so fierce that for the first time, Boone County volunteer firefighters are being called up to help battle the blazes scorching that state.

Gale Blomenkamp, a division chief for the Boone County Fire Protection District, said a call for help this early in the season from a state with such a large pool of volunteers illustrates the severity of the situation.

"We are in the eastern coordination area," Blomenkamp said this morning. "When they are reaching this far back this early, it shows how bad it is."

Boone County volunteers have been deployed west before, to states including Idaho and Montana, Blomenkamp said, but this is the first operation in California.

Two Boone County firefighters flew out of St. Louis today for a 14-day deployment. Wes Mahoney of Hallsville and Nathan Bias of Centralia will join other wildland firefighters from around the state as part of the Missouri Iowa Coordination Center, according to a district news release.

This team joined four other teams from the Eastern Area Coordination Center, and all five teams will fly to the operations center in Redding, Calif. Upon arrival, the teams will be assigned to one of the 19 complex fires burning in Northern California, according to the fire district.

Another volunteer, Colt Doman of the district's Station 15, left Saturday for a similar deployment. Doman is now assigned to the Iron Complex Fire, a blaze made up of six fires in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, just north of Junction City, Calif. That fire covers about 30,303 acres and is only about 50 percent contained, according to the fire district.

Blomenkamp said the fire district has about 20 volunteers who are certified wildland firefighters trained to master the behavior of fires in wild areas and who have passed a strenuous physical examination.

During the summer months, these volunteers make arrangements with their employers to schedule possible deployment times, and then their names are put on a centralized list. When other states need volunteers, the coordination center draws from that list.

Blomenkamp said it's possible that as the California fires rage, more Boone County volunteers will be called up to help control wildfires throughout the summer and fall.

Originally published by the Tribune's staff.

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