AUSTIN — Firefighters from Central Texas are on their way to help fight the wildfires in California.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced on Sunday that firefighters and support personnel from across Texas will be heading West to help battle the devastating fires currently burning across California.
Abbott said approximately 200 firefighters with 55 engines from departments across Texas, as well as teams from across the Texas Forest Service at Texas A&M, started deploying to California on Monday morning.
They expect the trip to take about three days and plan to be ready to start fighting the fires Thursday morning. They're planning to head to Southern California, but understand that their assignment may change in the next few days depending on the fire.
"This is the wild land hose that we have to shift on here," Jason Rutherford, Captain of the Wild Land Division at the Round Rock Fire Department, said.
Rutherford and crews packed up their gear on two trucks Monday morning.
Tuesday afternoon the City of Round Rock tweeted a photo of a firefighter fighting blazes in California.
"We're proud to get the call again," Rutherford said.
He was part of the crew that took a similar dangerous trip to fight fires in California just a few months ago.
"There was some anxiety because we were going into the unknown," Rutherford said.
He said the trees were larger and the forest more vast.
"We were actually put into a fire environment that we've never fought here in Texas, so we learned a lot," Rutherford said.
That knowledge is one of the things they're hoping these firefighters will bring back to Texas.
"Large campaign-type fires, where you're days and weeks, that's not something that we do very often, especially here in Central Texas," Austin Fire Department Division Chief Palmer Buck said.
Round Rock and Austin are just two of the Central Texas departments sending people out west Firefighters from Oak Hill, Lake Travis, Kyle and Bryan are also heading to California.
For the crews who are going to California for a second time this year, there are a few things that are different.
Last time, they put their equipment on trucks and actually shipped it there while they flew.
This time, they're driving.
Also this time, a mechanic from Round Rock is joining them, so that he can help fix any equipment that breaks.
These crews are planning to work two weeks of possibly 24-hour shifts.
"They will be physically and mentally taxed and worn out at the end of that two weeks," Buck said.
But even with the grueling days ahead, these firefighters are eager to get there.
"There's a critical need, and they're wanting to go out and help," Buck said.
"We train for it, so hopefully we can go out there and help them make a difference," Rutherford said.
Depending on what the fires look like in two weeks, the departments could leave the equipment there and send 40 fresh new firefighters out there.
As for the money these departments are spending, as part of the coordinated efforts, each agency should get reimbursed from the State of California.
“When disaster strikes, it is imperative that the call for help is answered, and that is exactly what these men and women serving in fire departments across Texas are doing,” Governor Abbott said. “As California continues to fight these fires, Texas will be sending its bravest firefighters to aid in their efforts. Our prayers go out to all who have been impacted by these devastating wildfires, and the State of Texas will continue to offer any resources to aid in the recovery process.”
Lake Travis Firefighters reported that three of its team members would be traveling to California, along with an unspecified number of Kyle firefighters.
The Austin Fire Department reported that two task forces from TIFMAS (Central Branch) were also deployed. According to the AFD, 17 members and four trucks make up one task force, while members of the Oak Hill, Round Rock, Lake Travis and Kyle departments comprise the second.
As of Sunday night, 31 people were confirmed dead due to wildfires across California along with thousands of home destroyed. The blazes in Northern California accounted for 29 of those deaths, making it tied for the deadliest wildfire in the state's recorded history.