Smokejumpers. Air tankers. Ax-wielding ground crews. Those are just some common images that come to mind when you think about the men and women who fight California's wildfires. A less popular image in our collective imagination is the team of fire chiefs who oversee the firefighting operations on the state's biggest fires.
Fighting a large wildfire presents a broad set of logistical and tactical challenges. Cal Fire assigns one of six statewide incident management teams to coordinate the efforts of multiple agencies to fight the biggest and most complex fires. The fire chiefs that make up those teams are tasked with containing a fire that can change course at any moment, and they also must feed and house hundreds (and often thousands) of firefighters.
California's six incident command teams are made up of fire chiefs from all over the state who are trained in specific functions – operations, logistics, planning, finance, planning, command, and so on. The strength of a team is that the relationships between its leaders have already been formed and tested.
"When a team is called upon, we don't need to necessarily take a lot of time to get to know one another, so we can hit the ground running," explained Todd Derum, Incident Commander for Cal Fire's Team 4.
Team 4 was deployed to Mendocino County in late July to oversee operations at the Lodge Lightning Complex Fire. A series of lightning strikes on July 30 caused two or three separate fires, which later grew together into one bigger fire. Steep, remote terrain made it difficult for firefighters to access the fire, and in the weeks that followed, the fire spread to more than 12,000 acres. (It's now 95 percent contained.)