Huge Strain on Firefighters

July 29, 2008 12:38:49 AM PDT
Firefighters from all over the state are staging at the fairgrounds in Chowchilla ready to be dispatched at a moment's notice. Many of them haven't had a day off in nearly a month.We are at the air attack base where planes filled with retardant fly out of to battle the Telegraph Fire. Firefighters both in the air and on the ground have had an extremely busy month.

Randal Cooper, Cal Fire: "As the needs change at the fire, they could request one strike team at a time, they could request the whole kit and caboodle. We could be empty here in 15 minutes time."

As the Telegraph Fire leaps into new territory, calls for additional resources are coming in.

After flames kicked up Saturday ... The Fresno County Sheriff's Department freed up one Sergeant and eight deputies to help with evacuations.

Margaret Mims, Fresno County Sheriff: "The way we will do this is sometimes it's just a loud speaker from a patrol car going down a street or it may be the announcement from the helicopter to cover as much ground as possible. Of course, we try our best to go door to door."

Inmate work crews from southern California are among the firefighters waiting at the Chowchilla Fairgrounds to be assigned. It has been a long, hot month.

Ralph Lheureux, Inmate Firefighter: "32 days on this last one on the Oliver, the shoe fire, the lightning fire and a couple other ones between here and there."

Donald Wood, Inmate Firefighter: "We are pretty much the foot soldiers for Cal Fire. We get in there, we are the front line initial attack, we'll see a lot of flames at times."

44 firefighters got the call to head to the Telegraph Fire Monday. The hundreds left behind are getting hydrated and plenty of rest. Ryan Gall is one of them. He wasted no time staking out a cool spot to set up his bed for the night.

Ryan Gall, Tracy Fire Department: "Other guys might be jealous of me, I got a pretty good spot. But hey, first come, first serve, right?"

There's a good chance he could be one of the first crews out Tuesday.

In a joint press conference Cal Fire and the Fresno County Sheriff's Department said that even though resources are spread thin right now, the basics are still being covered on the valley floor.

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