Chandler has dispatched 11 firefighters and two fire engines to Southern California to help battle blazes that have forced more than 500,000 residents out of their homes and caused approximately $1 billion worth of damage.
Fulfilling a federal contract with the Arizona Land Department, the Chandler Fire Department deployed firefighters this week to California to provide wildland fire service. Under the agreement, firefighters have to be certified to fight wildfires.
The 11 employees include Battalion Chief Roger Vigil; captains Mike Johnson, Gerry Gerard, Nate Wallace and John La Rew; engineers Curt Bafford, Ponce de Leon, Casey Lopez and firefighters Scott Jensen, Bryan Warne and Alfredo Garcia.
“Wildlife fires are a whole different animal because you’re at the mercy of the elements,” said fire spokesman Jason White, who battled wildfires earlier in his career. “It’s tough and dangerous work and these volunteers are very brave. They’re going to be away from their homes and families for a few weeks.”
White said the firefighters are contracted to stay 14 days with an option to extend to 21 days. They are paid overtime for their services by a federal fund, according to White.
The blazes, which started Oct. 21, have burned more than 600 square miles of land and forced more than a half-million people in seven different counties to evacuate their homes. The fires have also killed five people, injured approximately 45 and destroyed more than 1,800 homes, according to Tribune wire services.
Arizona has responded by sending 44 engines and more than 250 firefighters from around the state to the San Diego area. Chandler was one of several crews dispatched from the Valley. Other departments include Apache Junction, Guadalupe, Mesa and Tempe.