It's been an unprecedented year for wildfires in California, not simply because of the sheer number of fires and their intensity, but also because of the number of days, weeks, even months, that firefighters have had to work.
There are nearly 7,000 CAL FIRE firefighters across the state and currently almost all of them are on the fire lines as California’s resources are stretched to the limit.
“We have now gone on 50 days, 60 days that I have not seen home,” said Tim Edwards, president of CAL FIRE local 2881. “We’ve had crews go 96 hours straight without a single break or relief. And what you do is you try to have one guy get a few minutes of shut eye while the others are protecting properties and stuff like that.”
Crews have not been able to catch a break for months as multiple record-breaking fires have burned throughout the state for more than month. Edwards says it is taking its toll on firefighters, even if they will not admit it.
“You know, we have a can do attitude,” said Edwards. “None of us want to fail. We want to get the fires out, we want to protect lives and property, so they’re going to push through the fatigue. But they’re to the breaking point where we’re going to probably see more injuries because their bodies are just worn out.”
The pandemic has added to the stress as well, with firefighters having to leave home for weeks or months at a time during a period of significant uncertainty. Many have had to leave their spouses to juggle working from home and managing the kids’ distance learning schedules.
The state’s force of incarcerated firefighters has also been hit hard, with multiple large prison outbreaks preventing them from joining their colleagues on the fire lines.
Gov. Newsom approved hiring 538 additional firefighters last year, but COVID-19 budget cuts have put that on the back burner.