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Murray FD at the frontline of devastating California fires

Apr 09, 2018 04:18PM ● Published by Shaun Delliskave

In California, Murray’s Fire Department set backburn(also known as controlled) fires to reduce the amount of fuel that's available to the main fire. (Photo/Matt Boulden)

Firefighters are a close-knit group, and when their firefighting comrades in California issued a plea for help, Murray’s fire department answered. 

In December, the worst fires California has ever seen raged across communities in San Diego and Santa Barbara counties and Captain Matt Boulden, and Firefighters Josh Schultz, Zach Hansen, and James Oyler were called up for a two-week deployment in those counties.

The crew had to gather and check all their structural and wildland firefighting equipment that would be needed for a two-week deployment with a possible extension of up to a week. In addition to the technical requirements, approval was needed from the governors of the State of California and Utah, plus approval from Murray’s mayor and fire chief.

According to Boulden, “This all had to be accomplished in less than 24 hours with many moving parts and support from many different entities including firefighters from Murray City that did not get deployed but still had to fill shifts for those going. This was a true team effort.”

When they arrived in California, the Thomas Fire in Santa Barbara County was wind driven and had been less than 5 percent contained burning over 90,000 acres or 140 square miles. 

When they arrived in California they were assigned to the Lilac Fire in San Diego County city of Bonsall where they cut fire line and created a defensible space using chainsaws and other tools to monitor homes along evacuated Camino Del Ray Road properties. 

After four days they were reassigned to the Thomas Fire in Santa Barbara. Once they arrived on the Santa Barbara fire they were first assigned to clear defensible space around homes. Then they were asked to conduct a backburn and clearing operation to protect structures.    

Due to 24 hour rotations, they would have to leave an assigned area in the mornings and would not be sure if their work would be enough to keep the fire from spreading to structures.

Along some areas, the fire had burned all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Boulden was surprised at how the fire reacted in some areas. “Whole neighborhoods would burn except for one or two homes in the middle or on the fringe that seemed to be untouched by fire.”  

The people of California were very hospitable to the Murray firefighters including offers to buy and/or make them meals. “One family in particular whose daughter was an Olympic athlete was so generous they took time to make us dinner and even offered to make us breakfast in the morning because they felt safer and could sleep at night when we were there,” noted Boulden.

The lethal nature of the fire reminded the firefighters of the dangers associated with their job. Unfortunately, while they were there, the fire took the life of Cal Fire San Diego Unit Fire Apparatus Engineer Cory Iverson who died from thermal injuries and smoke inhalation. He is survived by his pregnant wife, Ashley and their two-year-old daughter.  

By the time the Murray fire team left the fire, it had burned over 270,000 acres and was 65 percent contained.

When asked what the take away from his experience was, Boulden replied, “That our success was only possible due to the joint efforts and support of our families and those of our community, state, and country. The resolve to make things better for our neighbors is always possible when we have a common goal.”

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