West Coast Fires Continue to Take Toll on Firefighters

Liz Carey

Redding, CA (WorkersCompensation.com) – Fires that rage up and down the West Coast are taking their toll on the firefighters who battle them.

In Washington, California, Nevada and Oregon, fires are burning through acre after acre of land as temperatures hover in the three-digit range, making conditions difficult for firefighters, but excellent for the fires.

California’s fires have taken the lives of more than 8 people, four of them firefighters.

Fire officials said California’s largest fire, the Carr fire, is just five percent contained and that it “has taken on a life of its own,” according to KQED’s Sonja Hutson.

The wildfire “has been creating its own weather — that’s how massive it is. It’s not following normal wind patterns, which fire officials say has made it unpredictable and difficult to fight,” Hutson told NPR.

In addition to winds, record-breaking heat and bone-dry conditions propelling the blaze, the wildfire’s unusual behavior is complicating their efforts to contain it. “I don’t know why it’s doing what it’s doing,” Cal Fire Chief Steve Crawford told the Associated Press. “It’s burning in every direction all at the same time. …It’s burning as if it’s got strong wind on it even when there’s no wind.”

A bulldozer operator, Don Ray Smith, 81, of Pollock Pines, and Jeremy Stoke, a fire inspector with the Redding Fire Department, were reported to have died in the Carr Fire that is burning out of control near Redding, CA. So far, the fire has burned more than 100,000 acres and destroyed 800 homes and 300 other structures.

Another bulldozer operator, Brandon Varney, died last week in the Ferguson fire near Yosemite when his bulldozer overturned. A second firefighter, who has not been identified, died when he was struck by a falling tree, according to NPR.

Currently, there are 18 fires burning in California that have consumed more than 250,000 acres of land. The fires are being fought by more than 3,400 firefighters — some of them working for 48-hours at a time to contain the blazes.

“Catastrophic fires are burning up and down the West Coast, putting a strain on our firefighting resources,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said. On Tuesday, Inslee declared Washington in a state of emergency, which allowed him to call up National Guard members.

Inslee said in a statement that 100 National Guardsmen would be called up for a two-week period to work in five teams of 20 to battle the blazes in his state. In addition, the guard would send two Blackhawk helicopters to make aerial firefighting runs.

The National Interagency Fire Center said all national resources are already committed. The department already has responded to 891 fires this year, compared to 853 for all of 2017.

On Monday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency authorized the use of federal funds to help with firefighting costs for the Chelan Hills fire in Douglas County, WA. That fire was reported as 97 percent contained on Tuesday, after burning 1,842 acres and damaging four residences.

Questions regarding whether or not firefighters would be covered by workers’ compensation insurance were not immediately answered by the California Department of Industrial Relations by press time. The Dept. oversees the state’s workers’ compensation program.

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