August 4, 2008

Firefighters Expected Back From Yosemite

By Jennifer McLain

Local firefighters were expected to return home over the weekend after being called out to assist on a blaze that has burned 53 square miles west of Yosemite National Park.

Firefighters from across Los Angeles County, including Pasadena, Monrovia, La Mirada and Monterey Park, were sent to fight Yosemite's Telegraph Fire last week.

"We (had) a strike team coming home (Friday)," said Los Angeles County Fire Battalion Chief Dave Stone. "Things have settled up there."

At the peak of the wildfires July 3, there were 442 firefighters from Los Angeles County assisting fire crews throughout Northern California.

As of Friday, there were 190 local firefighters helping out, said Kristina Hajjar, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

Capt. Danny Serna said Pasadena Fire Department crews are still at the Telegraph Fire in parts of Mariposa County.

"We (were) anticipating that they (were) going to be released Sunday," Serna said.

As of Friday, the Telegraph Fire was

60 percent contained after burning 34,000 acres and destroying 21 homes outside the towns of Midpines and Mariposa.

Since July, firefighters across the state have battled nearly 25 named wildfires that have scorched as far north as Del Norte County and as far south as Santa Barbara County.

"It's brush season pretty much all year round in California," Stone said. "But because we are in a drought, and because the beetle infestation that is devastating the forest and killing off all our trees, it makes it more susceptible to fires."

Additionally, nearly 3,000 fires were started by dry lighting strikes.

Over the past two months, Gov. Schwarzenegger has declared a state of emergency in 12 counties due to wildfires: Butte, Inyo, Kern, Mariposa, Mendocino, Monterey, Plumas, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Shasta and Trinity.

The cost of fighting just the Telegraph Fire is nearly $24 million, and $31 million in public assistance will be reimbursed to the state by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, according to the officer of the governor.

When state disasters and emergencies such as fires strike, there is an organized, statewide response, called the multiagency coordination system.

Resources are divvied up and incidents are prioritized. That way, when agencies have emergencies of their own, they will still have adequate staffing.

"We can't deplete our own resources in our own region," Hajjar said.

While firefighters were assisting those in Northern California last week, Southern Californians was shaken by a magnitude-5.4 temblor. Even though there was a loss of resources because firefighters were assisting up north there were still adequate resources, Stone said.

"We don't just take and strip a whole area of its resources," Stone said. "But if we do experience a 7.0 earthquake, it will be a widespread disaster. The fire service and law enforcement will be very inundated, and people need to

be prepared with emergency supplies for up to 72 hours."

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