San Francisco firefighters left in the early hours of Monday, Oct. 9 to help battle the fires that had broken out in Wine Country. They got their first breather on Thursday of that week.
A week later, on Thursday, Oct. 19, they returned to Station 7 at 19th and Folsom streets, exhausted.
“It’s humbling, it’s sad, it’s all of the emotions that bring you down. But what we can bring to it is trying to bring some order to all of that,” said Chief Tom Siragusa, who had deployed as part of a strike team that included 54 firefighters from San Francisco and more crews from around the Bay Area, including the Berkeley firefighters who shot a widely shared video of their arrival.
San Francisco Fire Department Public Information Officer Jonathan Baxter said the San Francisco crews — as the Berkeley firefighters’ video chronicles — were heading to a staging area in front of a department store, but upon their arrival, found it entirely engulfed in flames.
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When strike teams head out, firefighters do their best to look out for one another, said Baxter. But the work is hard, and even when firefighters might get a moment of reprieve to sleep at a base camp or in trailers modified with bunks, they’re subject to immediate recall.
The fires, more than 20 of them, have scorched more than 240,000 acres of land, almost 7,000 structures and forced about 100,000 people to evacuate.
Asked how the scene measured up to what he was expecting going in, Siragusa said, “it wasn’t what I was expecting and I found more than I wanted.”
Exact details of the effort were sparse Thursday afternoon upon the firefighters’ return. It had clearly been a draining trip.
“This is an unbelievable event with a lot of destruction, and we feel that. The last few days, especially, as we’re running into people who have lost their homes,” Siragusa said. “And they’re thanking us — we don’t need thanks; we’re doing our jobs.”