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Early Fire Season Puts Weary Northern California Firefighters On Front Lines For Months

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) - If it were any other year, this would just be entering fire season. Instead, firefighters have been out on the front lines for months, with very little relief.

With the dry fuel and hot temperatures, firefighters knew fire season would start a couple months earlier this year but with more than 29 fires burning in the state, they never imagined it would be this bad.

"We keep saying that every year is going to be worse and worse and this year has definitely taken the lead as the worst fire season we have ever seen," said Fire Marshall Steve Aubert from East Contra Costa County Fire.

From the Deer Zone Fire in East Contra Costa County to the Walbridge Fire in Sonoma, resources have been stretched thin.

Aubert added, "There are not enough fire resources to battle this effectively."

But with at least two good months of fire season left, weary firefighters are ready for the next fight.

"I will speak for Sonoma County firefighters, they will do anything that they can to protect the community that they serve," said Deputy Fire Chief Scott Westrope with the Santa Rosa Fire Department.

For some crews on the Walbridge fire just west of Healdsburg, they initially worked 60 hours straight before they saw a break. Deputy Chief Westrope says moving forward, the goal will be to find better ways to rotate the crews.

"It's a fine line to walk between pushing the equipment and people too hard and providing the help we feel like we need to provide to the community," said Westrope.

But instead of adding resources as fire season has gotten worse year after year, the COVID pandemic has tightened the budgets of city and county governments across the state.

"The adage is we are doing the best we can with what we have and we just move pieces around and always try to play the chess game to protect the community the best way possible," says Westrope.

In Sonoma County, the Walbridge fire is 97 percent contained but that does not mean the firefighters are getting a rest. The Santa Rosa Fire Department has sent engines and air support to other fires in the state, helping agencies that have come to their aid in the past.

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