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A firefighter works as flames from the Creek Fire push toward homes in the Cascadel Woods area of Madera County.

Photo by Josh Edelson

MCLB Barstow firefighter joins battle during record California fire season

29 Oct 2020 | Keith Hayes Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow

A firefighter from Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow’s Fire and Emergency Services has been working one of the largest fires currently burning in California this fire season.

“Firefighter Kevin Crandell is currently assigned to work the Lake Napa Unit Lightning Complex,” Deputy Fire Chief Ryan Tworek said. “He has been there since August 22 and is due back this week.”

When the term “complex” is added to a fire, that means that two or more fires in the same general area are under the same incident command, Tworek stated.

“Currently the LNU Lighting Complex has consumed more than 353,000 acres of grass, brush, and timber, and is 91 percent contained,” he said.

Crandell’s specific duty during the LNU Lightning Complex is as Incident Communications Center Manager, working the radio to keep the various firefighting agencies and personnel connected to the command center talking to each other. The LNU Lightning Complex is the third largest ever recorded in California, Tworek explained.

“We get Resource Requests for single resource personnel to work a fire from the agency fighting whatever fire is currently raging across the state,” the deputy chief said. “We have other firefighters in MCLB Fire and Emergency Services available as single resources for other fires, should the need arise."

Tworek stated lightning strikes have been tagged as the cause for the majority of the fires, such as the more than 43-thousand acre Dome Fire in the Mojave National Preserve northeast of Barstow.

However, investigators blame human negligence for the El Dorado Fire in Yucaipa, allegedly sparked by a pyrotechnic device set off in a tinder-dry public park during a baby gender reveal party, September 7. Flames have scorched more than 10,000 acres and forced 20,000 people to evacuate their homes.

“As of September 8, this is the worst fire season ever on record for California in terms of structures destroyed or damaged and acreage burned,” he said.

 “The extraordinary response by fire personnel and emergency rescue crews would have been much more difficult if not for the shared personnel and equipment..." Ryan Tworek, Deputy Fire Chief

Tworek pointed out that previously the 2018 series of wildfires had been the worst fire season on record in terms of acreage burned, 1,963,101, and structures destroyed or damaged, 24,226. 2018 was also the deadliest fire season on record for California with 100 confirmed deaths, 88 of those in the Camp Fire, which destroyed the town of Paradise in northern California’s Butte County. In other words, the fire seasons are getting worse and worse, and the time between one fire season and the next is shrinking to nonexistence, effectively making each fire season a year long.

Information provided by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection indicates in the 2020 fire season, which is not over yet, one firefighter died in the line of duty on the August Complex burning in the Mendocino National Forest, in Glenn, Tehama and Colusa counties. Another firefighter died during suppression of the Stagecoach Fire, south of Lake Isabella in Kern County.

More than 200 people were air lifted to safety by Army National Guard helicopters from the Creek Fire fanned on by hot Santa Ana winds, trapping the campers at Mammoth Pool Campground in the Sierra National Forest, August 6.

Seven civilians have been killed in the various firestorms raging across the state since August 3.

Tworek said there are more than two dozen “complex” fires now burning from northern to southern California, created by the merging of hundreds of smaller blazes.

“More than 2, 600,000 acres have been burned by wildfires so far this season alone, surpassing the 2018 totals,” the deputy chief said. “CAL FIRE reported that in 2019, more than 259,800 acres of land were burned, so this fire season, as far as acreage is concerned, is more than one hundred times worse than 2019.”

“The extraordinary response by fire personnel and emergency rescue crews would have been much more difficult if not for the shared personnel and equipment provided by the hundreds of fire departments in California coupled with agencies from out of state, and even out of country. Those shared resources are vital to containing and controlling the thousands of wildfires we deal with every year in this state,” Tworek concluded.