'You are a hero': Austin firefighters share stories from devastating Carr Fire in California

Battalion Chief Randy Denzer and four other Austin firefighters left the Lone Star State in early August...destination: the Carr Fire in California. "This was a historic event.  We knew it when we rolled out of town, we knew that this was a big deal.  We knew that this was the first time we were going to California to help them out at this level," Denzer said.

They would join other Texas firefighters and face danger for two weeks. "We'd be exhausted in the morning trying to get things rolling, we'd roll out of camp and there would be people holding flags and we start noticing one guy was holding a Texas flag," he said.

Denzer, leader of Texas Task Force 2 Strike Team, says the trip was full of humbling moments and grateful Californians, who may have at least seemed like they were from our neck of the woods at first glance. "I said 'what part of Texas y'all from?'  And he said 'We're not from Texas, we're from here, we just wanted to say thank you to Texas,' and that's...kind of chokes you up a little bit," Denzer said.

AFD says as of this week the Carr fire has burned more than 229,000 acres, destroyed more than 1,600 structures. Three people have died.

Read Texas firefighters heading to battle wildfires in California

When Austin's team arrived on the 8th, the fire was only 25 to 30% contained.  

"What we were doing was actually patrolling dozer lines which is the most important part of the job we have, to make sure that once the fire is held within the containment lines that the fire doesn't escape," Denzer said.

Lt. Steve Gibbon says the Type-3 fire engine they brought with them hauls 750 gallons of water. "This particular truck, it's 4-wheel drive, obviously a high-clearance vehicle, designed for operating on these mountainous roads.  This particular vehicle was home for 4 firefighters for 2 weeks," Gibbon said.  

Chief Denzer says he can't describe just how big the fire was. "My  pictures and the video and stuff I tried to capture looking across 40 miles away at a fire and realize that's the same fire you're on," Denzer said. Denzer says that when firefighters got back to camp and went for a bite to eat at the chow hall, little girls no more than 5-years-old brought them handwritten notes that meant the world: "You are a hero."

"They would hand one to every firefighter walking back in. Thousands of firefighters would be walking around with these little things.  What's funny is they're big bad firefighters you know...I would watch them and they would put them in their pockets," Denzer said.