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WJ Fire recaps California wildfire experience

Feb 01, 2018 04:21AM ● Published by City Journals Staff

Capt. Kris Maxfield (center) along with two of the five other firefighters who went to battle the fires in California during December. (Travis Barton/City Journals)

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Early December saw one of the worst wildfires in California history begin, and West Jordan saw six of its best firefighters head west to help out. 

Capt. Kris Maxfield, Travis Ball, Roy Todd, Blake Edwards, TJ Moser and Ryan Stephenson were the six members of the West Jordan Fire Department deployed in a task force along with South Jordan, Sandy and Salt Lake City 

“What an honor it was to get deployed with those guys and how well they represented the city,” Maxfield told the city council on Jan. 10. “They were phenomenal. Out of all the groups, those five particularly were always keeping a positive attitude even when things were tough and the hours were long.” 

Maxfield gave a presentation during a city council meeting—where they received a standing ovation—about the 14-day experience they had helping battle the Lilac and Thomas wildfires in California. They returned on Dec. 20. 

The group helped with both fires, spending three days protecting a ranch house against the Lilac fire in north San Diego County. It was known as the Lilac-5 since this was the fifth time this area had burned.  

The ranch house was owned by Santa Anita Park, which operates horse racing, so they were also protecting livestock. That included a horse named Nyquist, who won the Kentucky Derby in 2016. The horse is valued at $23 million. 

Maxfield said they extinguished any hot spots, coordinated drop-offs and did night patrols.  

They then moved onto the Thomas fire, now known as the largest in California history having destroyed 1,063 structures and consumed 281,893 acres, one civilian and one firefighter. 

The group was assigned to protect a neighborhood in the Santa Barbara mountains where they did structure triage and public relations. The group also canvassed the neighborhoods, speaking with people and assessing houses by filling out tickets that indicated which houses they would try to save if the area caught on fire. 

“It was a little bit humbling being able to decide the fate of someone’s property,” Maxfield said.  

The firefighters also spent time protecting important infrastructures such as water treatment plants. 

They slept in places such as the front lawn of a 1,200-acre ranch or a sanitation building parking lot in Santa Barbara the firefighters affectionately referred to as “Camp Utah.” 

In one 48-hour period, fire containment jumped from 30 to 60 percent, at which point the group was demobilized and sent home. 

Interim Chief Clint Petersen said California issued an eight-state request for help, “governor to governor.” He added all information received from CAL FIRE suggests this was a “successful deployment and would call on us again if the need arises.” 

Maxfield said CAL FIRE employs 5,400 full-time firefighters with 2,400 seasonal and 5,300 volunteer firefighters. It has a $2 billion budget and 967 fire engines, 59 bulldozers, 23 air tankers and 12 helicopters. 

“For them to reach out to a state like Utah and say they need help, that was a pretty phenomenal request,” he said. 

City officials expressed their appreciation to the firefighters for their service and sacrifice. 

“It was still a sacrifice to leave at the drop of a hat,” Councilman Dirk Burton said. “Thank you, each of you, for performing that service on behalf of West Jordan and the state of Utah.”  

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