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Southern support

Another local strike team undergoes training before heading to Butte County, where they will help its firefighters battle flames.

July 02, 2008|By Joseph Serna

More than 20 Orange County firefighters stood Wednesday at the base of a burnt-out fire training building across the street from Angel Stadium with a week’s worth of supplies at their feet, less than a day from being thrown into the fight that has occupied thousands of their coworkers for the last week across California.

Five of them, Costa Mesa firefighters, joked and jawed with Del Taco breakfast burritos in their hands and sleeping bags, sacks full of clothes, and a pile of firefighting jackets and helmets curbside, waiting for the bus that would take them 500 miles north to Butte County.

The men are part of a county strike team — a group of more than 20 firefighters and five trucks sent on a mission. Costa Mesa firefighters have been traveling up and down the state for nearly a month now, ever since the Humboldt Fire started up there in early June. It seemed that the Humboldt Fire was nothing but a warm-up for what firefighters across the state have had to deal with since hot, dry weather and lightning strikes ignited virtually all of Northern California.

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The men said they’re not fazed by the scale of the fight. After all, they’ve trained for this, they said.

“It’s a 12-hour drive,” said Darren Desluiter. “We’re sleeping on cots. Then a 12-hour drive back. It’s no vacation to go through all that. But it’s not scary or anything.”

“You have a little bit of anxiety going into a situation you haven’t been in. Once you get into base, once we understand what the divisions are going to be, where we’re going to be, we go out the first time, the area we’re going to work in, you’ve got to have heightened awareness,” said Costa Mesa Battalion Chief Scott Broussard.

The men work in 24-hour shifts — one day on, one day off, officials said. Once they arrive in Butte County, they’ll receive their assignments, most likely protecting homes and buildings in the Chico and Paradise areas, Broussard said.

Newport-Mesa firefighters already in Butte County were relieved Wednesday and were expected to return home sometime at night.

The Butte County Complex Fire has burned more than 17,000 acres and was 30% contained as of Wednesday afternoon, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Firefighters have had favorable weather for the last few days; but the layer of cool, moist air is expected to dissipate this weekend and leave hotter, drier weather that could fuel the fire, Broussard said.


JOSEPH SERNA may be reached at (714) 966-4619 or at joseph.serna@latimes.com.

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