Battling NorCal Blazes, Local Firefighters Expand Skills

First published in the Sept. 11 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

In his 24 years with the Burbank Fire Department, Capt. James Moye has battled all sorts of blazes and relied on proven techniques to put them out. Even when he and a strike team of firefighters were summoned to help combat the Monument and Caldor wildfires last month, he said, the approach was largely the same.
What he wasn’t used to were the trees. In Northern California, where several devastating fires have scorched forests and forced people to evacuate their homes, charred trees presented a unique danger. Moye, who recently returned to Burbank with his team, said he heard them fall to the ground throughout the day and night.
“It’s really daunting to see a 120-foot-tree just topple and crash,” he added. “That’s something we’re not used to.”
Still, Moye said being a firefighter is a process of constant self-education — there’s always something to learn to be better prepared in the future. In this case, his team worked closely with a “falling crew,” which would cut down hazardous trees to ensure they didn’t fall on anyone.
Another unusual aspect about the assignment was the number of Burbank crews that helped fight the fires. Typically, Moye explained, a crew of 21 will assist for 14 days — the maximum under established guidelines — and then return home. But fires in Northern California have occurred so frequently that resources are spread thinner. Moye’s crew relieved another Burbank team that had been there for two weeks, and was itself replaced by a group that is still battling the Caldor Fire in South Lake Tahoe.
The Monument Fire started July 30 due to a lightning strike, has burned about 200,000 acres and was 45% contained this week, according to the U.S. Forest Service. The Caldor Fire began Aug. 14 and has surpassed 210,000 acres, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection reported, noting there is more than 50% containment. That blaze’s cause is still under investigation, according to Cal Fire.

Photo courtesy James Moye Burbank Fire Capt. James Moye was part of a local team sent recently to assist in the battle against the Monument and Caldor Fires.

Moye said he and his team did a bit of everything, including attacking the fire and protecting neighborhoods from embers that were bleeding through the treeline. Despite the size of the blazes, he said he felt “it’s just like another day in the fire service.”
“There’s a mental checklist that you approach it [with],” Moye added. “You want to do it as safely as possible and achieve the objectives. … But the No. 1 priority is to make sure your crew is safe and goes home at the end of the day.”
Moye and his crew have returned home — with nothing more than some nicks and bumps as far as injuries are concerned, he said. And after a couple of days’ rest, the fire captain noted, he’s back to work.
The Burbank crews that are fighting the blazes in the north are proud that they can represent Southern California fire services, Moye said. And because firefighters are expected to help wherever they’re needed, he’s confident that their Northern California peers will rush down to Burbank if called upon.
“We’ve had some scary fires in our Burbank hills,” Moye said. “It’s nice to know that there’s somebody there … that can help us when those big fires impact our Burbank community.”