Governor Greg Abbott says that firefighters from across Texas will be deployed to California to help fight the devastating wildfires currently burning there.
An estimated 200 firefighters and 55 fire engines, as well as teams from the Texas Forest Service at Texas A&M, will begin heading to California.
Fire crews gathered at the Oak Hill fire department on Circle Drive Monday afternoon. It was a staging area, providing one last chance to pack and finalize plans for a deployment to California. The group departing, along with the team from Oak Hill, included firefighters from Austin, Lake Travis, West Lake, Round Rock and Kyle.
“It's definitely hard leaving family, its part of the job, Thanksgiving comes up and like I said, we are all going to miss Thanksgiving with the family...That’s what we do and the family understands it,” said Kyle Firefighter Brandon Kitchens.
Goodbyes were also said Monday in Houston and in Dallas/Fort Worth. The plan is to spend two weeks fighting the California wildfires, but before leaving there was a warning.
“If this thing pans out and we go max deployment, you know we might not be back until December,” said Task Force Leader Randy Denzer.
The Texas fire departments will be compensated for the personnel and equipment that’s sent through federal disaster funds. That includes the cost of keeping local departments staffed with employees working overtime.
This is the second time this year Texas firefighters have been deployed to California. Back in August a lot of the equipment was put on flatbed trucks and shipped out. This time trucks will be driven out by the crews. A 1,300 mile trip in seats that are not designed for this kind of road trip.
Pictures from the mission in August show equipment from Austin being used to fight the fires, from ridge tops and into ravines. The strongest memories from that deployment are not of the flames, according to Strike Team member Lt. Kyle Grieser.
“It was absolutely the human factor and just seeing how great the people were and how grateful they were for us to be there.”
This time Oak Hill fire Lt. Grieser is staying behind at the Oak Hill station in order to cover for his co-workers who are being sent. He offered this advise for those heading out:
“The main thing is everything that you see on TV and pictures of, it doesn’t do it justice" said Lt Grieser. "And be ready for any job assignment because you never know what you’re going be tasked with. You might be a direct attack on the fire, you might be an indirect attack on a fire, you might be stuck doing structural triage in a neighborhood that they are preparing the fire to get to in two days or three days from then, just be prepared for whatever is going to happen.”
The first caravan of fire equipment rolled out of Oak HIll shortly before 2 p.m. A second group, made up mostly of firefighters from the Austin Fire Department, left an hour later. The full team could be on a fire line by Thursday.
In a news release Gov. Abbott said the following:
“When disaster strikes, it is imperative that the call for help is answered, and that is exactly what these men and women serving in fire departments across Texas are doing. As California continues to fight these fires, Texas will be sending its bravest firefighters to aid in their efforts. Our prayers go out to all who have been impacted by these devastating wildfires, and the State of Texas will continue to offer any resources to aid in the recovery process.”
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