South Jersey residents are among more than 5,000 firefighters battling a deadly inferno raging in the mountains of northern California that has claimed the lives of six people, including two firefighters.
“We come out here every year, and this is the absolute worst fire I’ve ever seen in California,” said Capt. Albert Valentino of the Collings Lakes Fire Department in a phone interview Friday from California.
Valentino, 44, is one of six firefighters deployed from Atlantic, Burlington, Cumberland, Camden and Ocean counties to help combat the massive blaze.
Also in California are Trevor Raynor, 29, of Little Egg Harbor Township; Joe Battersby, 41, of Millville; Brian Beach, 50, of Clementon; William Sloane, 38, of Lakehurst; and John Earlin, 51, of Browns Mills.
Other New Jersey firefighters are dispatched to help combat the numerous wildfires scorching the western part of the nation, including John Knapp, 27, of Collings Lakes, who is deployed in Idaho to fight the Sharps Fire, which has burned 57,253 acres in Blaine County.
A volunteer firefighter for 25 years, Valentino has been with the New Jersey Forest Fire Service for six years. He said he joined because he “loved the outdoors.”
“We’ve got around five acres of fire engines out here,” he said. “And we’re only at 39 percent containment.”
The Carr Fire began with a “mechanical failure of a vehicle,” according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
As of Friday, the fire had burned 131,896 acres, destroying 1,067 residences and about 20 commercial properties.
“When we came in I saw a group of mobile homes that were just absolutely incinerated,” Valentino said.
Five thousand firefighters from throughout the country are battling the fire, Valentino told The Press of Atlantic City.
Two firefighters from Atlantic County are among dozens from New Jersey who have been sent to…
“It’s long shifts, about 16 hours,” Valentino said. “We work for 14 days straight and then swap out, but they can keep us for 21 days if it’s really bad.”
The biggest risks, Valentino said, were the extreme temperatures, which were as high as 105 degrees, and the unfamiliar terrain.
Raynor, on his way Friday to secure the fire line, hurriedly explained on his cellphone that firefighters’ goals were to secure each fire line, and to prep for potential evacuations, as well as supply water to the helicopters that are attempting to help from above.
The New Jersey Forest Fire Service dispatched 20 firefighters to help battle a wildfire in C…
Asked what the most difficult aspect of being in California was, Valentino said it was leaving his family behind.
“It’s hard not knowing what’s going on at home,” he said.
Despite the flames dancing over their heads and the danger lurking around each corner, both Valentino and Raynor were steadfast and calm during their interviews with The Press.
“It’s a pretty serious situation out here. The fire is large, and we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us,” Raynor said. “But the public is very supportive, and we appreciate it.”