Creek Fire: Classrooms being used as command posts for firefighters

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Mrs. Irwin's English and AP lit students may not be at school, but her classroom is getting plenty of use.

"To have this support and assistance is second to none," says CAL FIRE Capt. Jordan Motta. "We greatly appreciate it."

Motta says typically for this team, ordering resources like additional crews for the Creek Fire would be working out of tight spaces, like trailers set up on fairgrounds or empty lots.

But COVID-19 restrictions meant CAL FIRE would have to rethink that model.

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With more than 18,000 firefighters on 26 major fires across the state, campuses like Sierra High School serve as command posts.

In addition to classrooms that allow for social distancing between departments, the school is now a hub for thousands of firefighters across several agencies and states.

"They come in to get re-supplied, they get all their tools replaced," Motta said. "Any hose they left out on the line, they come for feeding, laundry, showers, sleeping, the crew wakes up in the morning and gets briefed."

"We have guys here 24 hours a day for whatever they need," says maintenance and transportation clerk Melissas Wintersteen. "Extension chords, air conditioning generators, anything they don't have already, we supply it for them."
For Wintersteen, the efforts are a way of thanking the fearless men and women on the front lines.

"I was born and raised in Shaver, so that's my hometown," she said. "That's gone and the fact they did so much to try to save it, it means a whole lot. There's just no words for it."

Sentiments the entire maintenance staff at Sierra High school share.

"It's a small community," Wintersteen said. "We all work together. We also have a lot of people in the community that are contracted with CAL FIRE; this is our way of supporting them."

The crews works around CAL FIRE's schedule to sanitize each classroom between uses. Something they were prepared to do when schools reopened.

Full containment on the Creek Fire isn't expected til the end of October, but the staff here says they're not only willing, they're thankful to serve those on the front lines.

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