It didn’t take long for Utah’s fire crews to get put to work on Southern California’s raging wildfires.
After three strike teams consisting of 98 crew members departed Utah on Thursday, one team of 22 from Unified Fire Authority and West Valley City was assigned Friday to the Lilac Fire, north of San Diego. Others will receive assignments as the weekend proceeds.
Eric Holmes, spokesman for UFA, said they received the request for help from California on Tuesday and by Wednesday, had a crew ready to go. The biggest problem with fighting these recent fires, he said, will be the winds.
“These wind-driven fires are unstoppable,” Holmes said by phone Friday. “You can’t put firefighters in front of something like that because they will just get rolled over.
“When the winds are like that all you can really do is evacuate.”
As of Friday morning, the Lilac Fire was zero percent contained and had burned more than 4,100 acres, destroyed 65 to 90 structures and nearly 1,500 more were threatened. Fire crews battling the fire consisted of 103 fire apparatus, six bulldozers, four helicopters, according to a news release from Unified Fire Authority.
This is the second Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) request Utah has received from California since October.
Holmes said that even though it is December and Utah might not see fires as much this time of year, California’s situation with the Santa Ana winds can extend the state’s wildland fire season to as many as nine months out of the year.
“It’s not that uncommon to see fires that bad this late in the year,” he said. “These things are ferocious and what we’re seeing right now, it’s not normal, but they haven’t gotten any rain.”
The crews will really need a break in the wind if they want to get ahead of the fire, Holmes said. In the meantime, more Utah crews will be ready if needed.
“The forecast doesn’t look good,” he said. “It looks like winds are going to remain and if that’s the case, these dozen fires now may be even more when winds pick up can create another 50 fires or whatever.”