This burnt-out shell of a truck was left behind in the wake of the Bear Fire, which burned for 10 days in Northern California. A team of Sanpete County firefighters travelled to the blaze and helped to contain its raging inferno.

Fire Chief reflects on Sanpete team

experience at California wildfires

By Max Higbee

Staff writer

Nov. 30, 2017

 

Sanpete County firefighters recently gained and contributed experience by heading west to join the massive effort to combat wildfires ripping through the wine country of Sonoma County, California.

The Sanpete group, which went to California under the name, West Utah Engine Strike Team, consisted of Nathan Miner, Fairview fire chief; Elliott Anderson, assistant fire chief in Manti; and Kenneth and Ryan McArthur, brothers who serve as firefighters with the Gunnison Valley Fire Department.

The strike team who helped contain the California wildfire last month was supplied engines by the Uintah-Daggett fire warden, the Grand County fire warden, Price City, Gunnison Valley, and Rocky Ridge in Juab County.

“We met up on Friday afternoon in Wendover and stayed the night there before going to Grass Valley, the mobilization center for the Sonoma and Northern California fires,” Miner said.

“By then though, we were needed more in the southern part of the state. So we stayed the night, than left for Chino, the location of the Southern California mobilization center. From there, we ended up at the Bear Fire near Santa Cruz.”

The Bear Fire blazed for ten days, from October 16 to 26, and destroyed a handful of structures, including at least one home. Nine firefighters were injured in the effort to contain the wildfire.

“We were actually the only team from Utah to see fire,” said Miner. “We had a really diverse group of individuals–some were very experienced at this sort of thing, and one or two others were first timers on a big wildfire.”

Offering support to neighboring states is practical, as well as altruistic. Miner believes, “as you get experience in different terrain types, different fuel types, you get a real sense of confidence, that ‘I can do this.’”

“We can bring the experience and expertise we’ve gained back to our stations,” said Miner. “We’ve been working with the BLM and the Forest service, to be able to function with them better, so they see us not just as volunteers but as partners.”

Monetary benefits to offering fire fighting help exist as well. According to Miner, “when a municipality sends an engine to help fight these large wildland fires, they usually come out of it with a decent paycheck.” He said that a year ago, Fairview sent an engine out to help fight a fire in Pole Creek, Wyoming. “After paying all of the costs, the city came out of it with about $20,000.”

When asked what the public can do to support the efforts of the county’s fire departments, Miner said, “We’re always looking for volunteers, all of our stations are woefully undermanned. In Fairview, for example, ten of the 12 firefighters that I have regularly work out of town. If I had a fire during the day, I’d have only 2 or 3 guys immediately available.”

“Because we’re volunteers, we can’t just sit around the station waiting for the alarm to go off. We’re at home or work or wherever. We’re grateful for employers who support firefighters leaving during the work day. That’s extremely important–we can respond to save lives and property.”property.”