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Battle heats up for firefighting crews

Fatiguing conditions make fighting Westville and Government Springs fires difficult
By: Jenna Nielsen, Journal Staff Writer
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FORESTHILL — Lack of sleep, intensely thick smoke, sizzling heat and rugged terrain began to take its toll on fire crews Tuesday as hundreds continued to battle two lightning-sparked wildland fires near Foresthill, which have grown to scorch more than 9,000 acres. Crews fought the triple-digit heat and fatiguing conditions on the Government Springs Fire, which has charred around 6,174 acres roughly 13 miles east of Foresthill, and the Westville Fire, which has burned about 2,299 acres as of Tuesday afternoon. “Of all the elements, (lack of) sleep gets you the worst,” said Doug Savor, a U.S. Forest Service fire fighter from Idaho. “It’s the most fatiguing on your brain because it’s not like when you are done for the day you get to go home and sleep in your own bed — at best it’s an air mattress. And you’re sleeping in a camp with a bunch of other people, who sometimes like to talk.” Savor and his crew have been working on containing the blazes for the past 13 days. After Wednesday, the crew will make the lengthy trek home for two days of rest. “Then we will be back at it,” Savor said. “So when does it start to take its toll? Find me in August and I’ll tell you something different.” According to AccuWeather.com, high pressure anchored over the Western states is allowing heat to pump out of the Desert Southwest into much of the West. The high is erasing the marine influence along the West Coast, while the extreme heat builds in inland areas. The sizzling weather put safety officers and fire personnel on high alert Tuesday. “Even seasoned firefighters can get hit by these conditions, they all affect everyone differently,” said Larry Klock, safety officer with the U.S. Forest Service. “Everyone out here has to be a safety officer and make sure everyone stays hydrated and stays aware of the hazards.” The combination of low humidity, high temperatures and lack of water alone can have a damaging effect on crews. “Not to mention they are out here working hard, sweating,” Klock said. “Cumulatively, all the elements are going to add a lot of extra stress on the body.” Crews acknowledged the importance of hydration and knowing each other’s limitations. “If we go out here and go hog wild it’s not going to do us any good,” said Capt. Mike Durocher of the Yuba U.S. Forest Service ranger district. “We have to pace ourselves. This is what we train for.” The Government Springs and Westville fires, estimated to have reached $7.4 million in cost, are 10 percent and 15 percent contained respectively, said Jane LaBoa, spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service. The two fires, separated by the American River, are also continuing to burn closer together, she said. “It is at the point where they might become one fire within the day,” LaBoa said. Crews were focused on preventing the spread of the Government Springs Fire over a ridge on the northwest side of the canyon, which would likely threaten the community of Blue Canyon. “If the fire were to get established down in that drainage area the community would be in danger,” LaBoa said. “And that’s where the most structures are.” Crews were also working to contain the Westville Fire to the north side of Foresthill Divide Road. The closure of Texas Hill Road north of the American River and south of Emigrant Gap and an eight-mile stretch of Foresthill Divide Road from China Wall to Sailor Flat remained closed Tuesday afternoon as a result of the fires. More than 730 firefighters are on scene and resources include 14 crews, eight helicopters, 44 engines, 10 dozers and 14 water tenders. Crews from Cal Fire, the U.S. Forest Service and personnel from across the nation are helping battle the blaze. The Journal’s Jenna Nielsen can be reached at jennan@goldcountrymedia.com.