‘I Thought For Sure I Was Going to Lose My House”: Humboldt County Strike Team Battles Blaze to Save Residence in Southern California’s Enormous Thomas Fire
On Friday, December 8, the Humboldt County team left Garberville in the early morning hours headed to fight the fire. They have committed to be there for two weeks. The Thomas Fire is already the 5th largest fire in modern California history. It has encompassed over 230,000 acres (360 square miles or about an 11th the size of the entire county of Humboldt.) Over 18,000 structures are threatened and about 644 homes were destroyed.
Without our strike team, more homes would have been burned, according to a resident and one of the strike team. The crew rested overnight on Friday and then got up early on Saturday, the 9th to fight the fire. According to Thomas Norris, Assistant Chief with Salmon Creek Fire who joined Briceland Fire for this incident, “Our strike team was split up working several small fires. Around 11 in the morning we were told to check out some smoke near a residence…Within minutes it…blew up…Luckily we were there first and got most of it out before it burned a house to the ground.”They were stationed in the area of upper Ojai and Sulphur Mountain, according to Dura Williams, a local resident who posted the above photo on the Ojai Community Thomas Fire Network. “These guys were fighting fires on our property and neighbors …because the wind picked up and my hillside started to burn. I’m so happy that they were here.” We reached Dura Williams today and he told us that he had been running without much sleep for almost a week as he dealt with the fire in his rural neighborhood. But by Saturday, the fire had seemed to have calmed down. He brought his kids back from the motel they had been staying in and was cleaning up his property from earlier encroachments by the Thomas Fire when he called for help with some scattered smoldering embers. When the strike team came, he said, “They noticed another fire. [It] started in my property.” Williams said, “The fire pretty much exploded…It literally blew up in a matter of seconds…It jumped from one piece of property to the next…We loaded my kids into my car.” The flames spread so quickly that the approximately eight to ten fire engines with the Humboldt strike team had to spread out across several properties. As he loaded up his children and belongings, he said, “We heard the helicopters coming.” The Briceland fire crew members stayed with him. “They were doing their best to put out the fire,” he said. “I thought for sure I was going to lose my house.” But he said the helicopters and crew were tenacious and worked well together. “They were all very organized at getting [the flames] out.”
The strike team stayed through the night as they work for 24 hours and then rest 24 hours. “There are close to 10 homes they were putting out embers around the whole night,” Williams said. He added that he was able to grab a couple of solid hours of sleep then because it gave him “peace of mind” to know the crews were there.Yesterday, the team went back to camp to rest and Williams took stock of what happened. Without the crews, he said, “My house absolutely would have been gone.” Today, he feels his 12-acre property is safe. He survived the Thomas Fire.
Meanwhile, though, the Humboldt County strike team has had their 24 hours of rest, they’ve been debriefed and they are on their way back to battle the smoke, the flames, and the exhaustion as they handle heavy hoses, dig fire lines and stay awake for another 24 hours.
Today, said Norris, “We’re going to a place that is pretty hot and heavy.” They are headed to Kenney Grove Park in Fillmore near avocado fields in the mountains
“The mountains just to the northwest of us are all smoke right now,” Norris said just before he hung up the phone to start another day of battling one of the largest fires the state has ever known.