Valley firefighters trickling home from Rim Fire

September 2, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Firefighters from the Central Valley are returning home after two weeks battling the Rim Fire, which is now the fourth largest wildfire in state history. Firefighters from Fresno, Clovis, Coalinga and other Valley spots have been trickling home over the last few days.

Action News talked to Fresno firefighter up on the fire lines last week and found out how close they came to danger at Hetch Hetchy.

It's time to take a load off for these Coalinga firefighters. After 14 days away from home, mostly battling the Rim Fire, they're back in the Valley, headed home with stories of the biggest fire they've ever battled.

"You'd see the big header and as you're looking at it off in the distance, you're like 'OK, that's a pretty big fire,'" said Coalinga Fire Capt. Billy Long. "Then you'd get a little closer and realize, 'Wait a minute, there's another fire down there.'"

Long was part of a strike team with Fresno firefighters Action News caught up to in Groveland, along the South edge of the fire.

Their assignment was to protect the Hetch Hetchy reservoir, and the water supply to San Francisco. Photos from along Hetch Hetchy Road show how close the fire came. As it closed ground, they soaked structures in the area to slow the progress of flames.

"We were flowing water continuously for two hours out of two different hand lines, just wetting everything down," Long said. "The fire was probably within 50 to 75 feet."

With the dam itself as their refuge in case of emergency, the strike team held its ground. The fire kept growing, but Valley firefighters are part of the reason containment numbers have grown fast.

And their efforts didn't go unnoticed. Signs sprung up all over the mountain towns that didn't evacuate, and one Groveland resident refused to let the crew from Coalinga buy their own supplies at a local store.

"I had my card ready and she's blocking the ATM so I couldn't swipe it and she's just like 'Thank you. Thank you. Thank you,'" Long said. "Well, thank you."

The firefight is slowly winding down, at least for local firefighters. There are no plans to send new crews up to the Rim Fire, but they'll wait on word from the state and federal leaders before standing down completely.


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