On the way home to Washington after fighting a wildfire in California, a crew from Snohomish County had stopped at an In-N-Out Burger for lunch when they got a call rerouting them to another inferno.
Specifically, they would be tackling the 3,700-acre Ranch Fire, which at the time had only been 15% contained.
“You try to know, until you’re really home, you’re not home,” said Everett Fire Capt. Nick Adsero, who led the team.
In what is fast becoming an annual tradition, firefighters from Everett, Lake Stevens, Fire District 7, Arlington and Getchell Fire were among those called south to help blunt the onslaught of blazes in California. Each strike team includes personnel from multiple agencies and five vehicles, typically brush trucks or fire engines.
“Unfortunately, the California wildfire season is not a season anymore, it’s a year-round event,” said Fire District 7 spokesperson Heather Chadwick.
Initially, the strike teams responded to the Kincade Fire, which burned nearly 80,000 acres and threatened more than 90,000 structures, causing mass evacuations in Sonoma County this fall before being fully contained on Nov. 6.
By the time Washington’s strike teams made their way to California at the end of October, crews were mostly doing cleanup work and putting out hot spots.
A strike team led by Getchell Fire saw no front line action. Instead, Getchell Chief Travis Hots said they waited at the main camp outside the Kincade Fire, ready to jump on a call when needed.
There, Hots said his crew camped out with more than 5,000 fire personnel and 1,000 firefighting apparatuses.
He said his team made use of the time, putting in lots of training and familiarizing themselves with the surrounding area.
They also got to eat a meal made by Guy Fieri, the bleach-blond, spiky-haired chef starring in Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”
Getting to meet Fieri at the camp, and sample a pasta dish he made, was a special treat for the team, Hots said.
Both the Getchell- and Fire District 7-led teams made it home in early November.
“They got home safe and sound,” Chadwick said. “Tired, but safe and sound.”
The Everett Fire strike team stayed behind to battle the Ranch Fire, in remote Tehama County, and a 1½ drive from the small town of Red Bluff.
There, the terrain was much rougher, with some areas only accessible by four-wheel drive, Adsero said. They and other crews worked 24-hour shifts to fight back the flames.
“It definitely needed our smaller brush rigs,” Adsero said.
On Nov. 9, the strike team made its way back to Washington. Authorities eventually declared the fire contained Nov. 14.
Adsero said it was good to be home, but he couldn’t help but feel for his colleagues in California.
“They’re the ones doing all the work and just getting beat up year round,” he said. “They spend a lot of time away from their families.”