SPOKANE, Wash. — Spokane Firefighters returned to Spokane Tuesday night after 11 days helping combat the fires that devastated Northern California.
Crews from Spokane Fire Protection District 8, City of Spokane Fire, and Chelan Fire and Rescue went out to California and got a firsthand look at the destruction and damage caused by the wildfires that burned across the state.
Tom Hatley was one of 19 firefighters from our region who traveled to California to help fight fires and protect homes. He said the devastation was unlike anything he's ever seen.
"We were right in at ground zero where a lot of that transpired,” Hatley said. “I mean we're used to seeing homes, blocks, being burned down, but we saw whole communities burned.”
He said whole communities were gone in the blink of an eye.
"Just in one day, I GPS’d 108 structures lost and we did have a fatality, a citizen die in the area we were working in,” Hatley said. “Nothing compares to what we saw down in California this last week."
Firefighter Bill Gonzalez was also part of the group from Spokane that went to help and said it was tough to see so many homes lost.
“The fire activity that happened down there was fast, and just incredibly rapid and devastating for thousands and thousands of people,” Gonzalez said.
The firefighters worked 24 hour shifts and saw communities lose everything.
"It was very emotional for us, I mean, we tend to go in and get out, we really try to help the citizens get back on their feet,” Hatley said. “But when you're talking thousands upon thousands of homes, and driving through the neighborhoods and seeing people losing their livelihoodsand then talking to them, it definitely took a toll on all of us."
Crews went to aid the Golden coast from all over the west side. Firefighters said the people of California were extremely grateful to have so many crews show up.
"Every morning we'd leave camp to go out to the fire line and there were 50 people lined up on the side of the road waving with signs saying thank you for being here,” Gonzalez explained. “It was just every emotional and very cool to be involved with."
Some people have even sent cards to our firefighters here in Spokane expressing thanks for their efforts.