SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – After spending nearly three weeks on the front lines of the Camp Fire, crews with both Folsom and Sacramento fire departments are just now returning home.
The Folsom strike team arrived at the Camp Fire that fateful Thursday afternoon, just as the blaze was tearing through town. The Folsom crew assigned to Butte Creek Canyon just outside Paradise.
“Basically our primary mission was evacuations and rescue,” said Division Chief Mark Piacentini with Folsom Fire.
As the flames bore down the Folsom crew made several daring rescues, but soon found themselves cut off, needing to make a quick escape.
“We were able to save ourselves so to speak, and in that process, we found some other people who were trapped by debris trees, and wires. We assisted in getting them out,” Piacentini said.
“We put them in our truck, our fire engines. There were other civilians that were coming down and we were able to flag them down.”
At the same time nearby, a Sacramento strike team was moving towards Paradise. Their mission was to save structures in a town already ablaze.
“When you roll into town and Safeway is on fire, and McDonald’s is gone and everything around it is gone. That day I knew it was a big one and we were going to be there for a while,” said Captain Rick Marrs with the Sacramento Fire Department.
With limited resources, the Sacramento crew saved house after house, but it was the ones they couldn’t protect that they’ll remember the most.
“When I turn around and have to walk away from a house. And I look at that house and think, ‘this is someone’s retirement home and everything they have is inside that house and there’s nothing I can do,’” he said.
Both crews say the people of Paradise were grateful, reaching out however they could to offer thanks. And despite being both physically and mentally exhausted, firefighters say their thoughts are with the community as they endure the holidays while suffering so much loss.
“I’ve been out on other strike teams before and wildland fires before, but nothing like this,” Marrs said.
“Then you throw on top the number of lives lost this close to the holidays and it does leave an impact on you,” Piacentini said.
Saturday, officials reported the Camp Fire stands at over 153,000 acres with 98 percent containment. There have been 85 confirmed deaths.