SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — As we continue to hear from Cal Fire commanders that they are understaffed and need more resources, CBS13 is digging deeper into where those resources are.
Of the 10,000 firefighters reportedly on working fire lines across the state, about 1,500 were dedicated to the two largest Northern California lightning complex fires, according to information posted on Cal Fire’s website Thursday morning.
The SCU Lightning Complex Fires had 1,036 assigned personnel, twice as many as the LNU Lightning Complex Fire to the north, which has started a day earlier. Cal Fire reported 587 personnel at the LNU Complex Fire. However, LNU had eight helicopters, while SCU only had four this morning.
Combined, there was about one firefighter for every half mile burned between the two fires and one helicopter per roughly 80 square miles. For perspective, that’s roughly the size of an area stretching from West Sacramento to Natomas, North Highlands and Sacramento State.
But Cal Fire’s Daniel Berlant says, instead of a metric to assign crews, they focus on the most active front.
“It‘s not as easy to say one firefighter per one acre, because the size, for the most part, is already burned,” Berlant said.
However, with dozens of active fires burning across the state, focusing on the most active front has become more difficult.
“Getting enough resources on every fire always takes time. And in some cases, that could be minutes. That could be hours, depending on how rural these fires are,” Berlant explained.
He says they’re constantly moving resources, prioritizing by life, then property, and focusing on the newest fires first. The hope is to get the newest fires contained, then move crews and equipment to other areas most in need. The division chief referenced that strategy Thursday at the LNU fire briefing. Officials there said they are expecting more resources coming from smaller fires across the state that already have containment lines.
“We’re continuing to make sure that every available resource that we can get our hands on is available to our incident commanders,” Berlant said. “If they need more air tankers, then we work with our partnering states to bring in more air tankers.”
Berlant notes that California is fortunate because we have the largest air fleet in the world, including two dozen air tankers and more than two dozen helicopters. Half of the state’s helicopters were dedicated to the three Northern California complex fires, the South Bay SCU Lightning Complex with four helicopters, the North Bay LNU Lightning Complex with eight, and seven more are allocated to the CZU Fire burning the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Berlant says while there are never enough resources, the state has more today than back in 2008, which is the last time the state saw widespread lightning fires like this. In fact, according to a legislative report, the state has more resources than last year as well.
Berlant says the state currently has 39 helicopters, 24 air tankers, and 10,000 firefighters on the front lines. He says an additional 375 engines are coming in from out of state to help relieve firefighters on the front lines right now.
And while there are fewer inmate firefighters due to coronavirus releases, Berlant says they have backfilled the gap with the National Guard and local resources.