The fire that torched more than 250,000 acres in the Stanislaus National Forest region was so treacherous that thousands of fire fighters throughout the state of California were called to help battle the Rim Fire.
Among those reporting for duty was a five-man regional strike team from Chula Vista Fire Station 1.
Chula Vista Fire Department Battalion Chief Richard Brocchini and his squad made their deployment in August, two weeks after receiving a Type-1 fire engine through the state’s Office of Emergency Services.
A strike team is a specialized unit used to fight camp-sized fires.
In total, the strike team consisted of 22 OES firefighters from Vista, Rancho Santa Fe, Lakeside and Poway, all of which have Office of Emergency Services fire engines.
Brocchini said the wildfire was the largest he had ever dealt with.
“It was a unique situation, I think it was one of the largest fires in California history,” Brocchini said.
The Rim Fire is recorded as the third largest fire in California, and the largest wildfire to have burned through the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Not only was the wildfire one of the largest in history, it was also one of the toughest to fight.
The crew from Chula Vista spent 11 days protecting San Francisco’s Hetch Hetchy Reservoir — San Francisco’s main water source, first working 12-hour shifts then, as the fire intensified, 24-hour shifts.
Brocchini, a veteran of more than 18 years with the Chula Vista Fire Department, said containing the fire against erratic wind conditions, rugged terrain and enormous trees and boulders while keeping his men out of harms was a difficult task.
“We had these structures (around the reservoir) we had to protect and at the same time, keep firefighter safety in mind,” he said. “We had a lot of guidelines for firefighter safety out there because there are so many variables with the vegetation fires and wild land fires,” he said.
Brocchini said he was worried that the large trees would fall during the fire, so he had to make sure his crew was in the clear. He also said he was concerned that the big boulders would come rolling down the hill and possibly crush his firefighters.
The reservoir was located about an hour and a half away from the fire crew’s base camp.
To combat the fire and protect the structures around the Hedge Hitch Reservoir, the strike team strategically placed fire engines around the fire, constantly checked weather conditions, and devised their own hand-held map to pinpoint locations of fires and strategize.
Brocchini said the crew also wetted the structures often, closed attic vents with cardboard and tape so no embers got inside and burned the structure.
On the mission, Brocchini was a strike team trainee, meaning he paired up with a strike team leader in preparation to becoming a leader himself.