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Bend firefighter talks of battling massive Thomas Fire


Thousands of firefighters, including several from Central Oregon, are still battling the enormous Thomas Fire in Southern California.

Central Oregon Type 3 Task Force Fire Engine Leader Darren Root, a captain with the Bend Fire Department, told NewsChannel 21 his team was moved to Santa Barbara Wednesday morning to continue firefighting efforts.

They left Ventura County where more than 6,000 firefighters are stationed. Root said the Santa Barbara camp was built Monday and will hold 3,000 firefighters by the end of the week.

The crew works 24-hour days, followed by 24 hours off, over a period of 14 days.

Root said they’re being cautious with this fire. Just the other morning, the relative humidity in Southern California was 1 percent.

The intensity of the fire is a lot to take in, but he said the morale is high.

“We were told by our division supervisor yesterday that our task force was the first one to go direct, and that means go directly at the fire to fight it,” Root said. “He feels because of the progress other firefighters have been making, and we went direct, we made a significant impact in the area we were assigned.”

Root said many of the firefighters feel like they’re accomplishing what they came to do. He said their focus is structure protection.

“Yesterday, we sat on a house, and our division supervisor asked us to assist a 40-person hand crew dig line and establish a hose line up a steep ridge while we were protecting the house,” Root said. “So our crew of five engines went to work and we were able to plum a fire hose up this ridge to prevent fire from coming over the ridge and threatening the homes on the other side.”

Root said 10 strike teams from 12 different counties in Oregon are fighting the Thomas Fire. He said it feels really good to help California, after all the help the state’s firefighters gave to Oregon during its fire season.

His team is scheduled leaves California on Dec. 20 and return home on Dec. 22.

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