A Tracy Fire Department strike team led by Division Chief Andy Kellogg and Capt. Scott Arganbright returned to Tracy from the Rim Fire on Sunday, Sept. 1.
“We could see the smoke, and at times we could see the flames,” Kellogg said
By Thursday, Sept. 5, the Rim Fire had consumed 237,341 acres of land since it began Aug. 17, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
In addition to Kellogg and Arganbright, the Tracy strike team consisted of Capt. Dan Havicus, engineer Rubin Cortinas and firefighters Jeff Brown and Ray Gonzalez.
For 12 days, they were assigned to protect the communities of Pine Mountain Lake, Cold Springs and Mi-Wuk Village, Kellogg said. Although his team was ahead of the fire zone, he said they often dealt with heavy smoke and falling ash.
“The mornings were very smoky, like a fog, and it hung low until about 11 a.m., when it lifted,” Kellogg said. “At night, residents could see glowing embers dropping in the area. Given the right conditions, that could have ignited fires, but it didn’t. That’s why we were there.”
The strike team’s presence reassured the residents, Kellogg said, and they showed their thanks with two potluck dinners at Twain Harte and gifts of food, water, personal hygiene items, pillows and blankets. Residents also collected money to feed the firefighters at local restaurants.
Because all the team’s expenses were paid by Cal Fire and the National Forest Service, Kellogg said he asked the residents to donate the money they had collected to the American Red Cross and evacuation centers.
“They really made a big effort to make sure we were thanked, appreciated and accommodated,” he said. “We didn’t expect that. This is our job, and this is what we do.”
The team helped residents’ clear debris and vegetation from within 100 feet of their homes and also drove around to get familiar with the rural surroundings.
Like all strike teams, the Tracy firefighters worked rotating shifts of 24 hours on duty and 24 hours off. Kellogg said they had to be ready at a moment’s notice, because of the fire’s unpredictability.
“This fire was pretty extreme,” he said. “They were getting spot fires more than a mile ahead of the fire.”
Fire officials reported that the Rim Fire was 80 percent contained as of Thursday, and Kellogg said his team was the last structure-protection group to leave the fire zone.
Firefighting efforts as of Wednesday had used 2 million gallons of water and 2.3 million gallons of fire retardant. The burned area is five times the size of Washington, D.C., and includes 66,155 acres of Yosemite National Park, according to Cal Fire.
Fire Capt. Eric Oliveri and paramedic Kevin Meineke also returned to Tracy from wildfire duty on Saturday, Aug. 31. Paramedic Jeremy Ward returned Aug. 23.
• Contact Denise Ellen Rizzo at 830-4225 or firstname.lastname@example.org.