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As California Wildfires Rage, Firefighters Battling Fatigue

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – Thousands of firefighters are battling flames across the state but that's not their only fight. Many of them are struggling with fatigue, working several days and sometimes weeks on end.

Sacramento frefighter Michael Feyh recalls his worst day on the job after the busiest day in his industry: July 4, 2010.

"Basically, we'd been up for almost 24 hours," he said. "The house had been booby-trapped, the gas line had been cut and a candle had been placed in there."

He opened the home's door and an explosion threw him 20 feet away. His head and hands were covered in 2nd- and 3rd-degree burns.

"I'd like to think that we were on the top of our game already but there is always that possibility that maybe there was something, maybe another clue," Feyh said.

A clue he says his team may have noticed with fresh eyes. And he's not alone. An estimated 35,000 firefighters in California are working more and more hours in a more dangerous landscape.

"This place from southern border to northern border is set to ignite," said Mike Daw, executive director at the Firefighters Burn Institute.

He blames bark beetles, drought, and dry brush everywhere. He spent 33 years with Sacramento Metro Fire Department and says shifts can range from 24 hours to 2 weeks, sometimes with no chance to sleep. And to make matters worse he says many cities have seen population booms with no increase to the number of firefighters.

"You wind up with an extremely exhausted fire service that is still doing everything they can to answer those 911 calls," Daw said.

And many of them are so committed to serving, they don't ask for help when they're injured or near their breaking point.

"Thank goodness that we have these type of people in our community because they are the ones that are going to come in here and save us," Daw told CBS13.

But Daw says the public has to match that commitment - and prevent fires from sparking in the first place.

"I'm not sure how many civilians we need to kill in these fires or how many firefighters need to die or be injured until we all get a grip," Daw said. "All millions of us."

His advice for firefighters and unions is to truly evaluate whether or not you are ready to come back to work.

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