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Firefighters happy to be home after weeks on fire lines - KSBY.com | San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Area News

Firefighters happy to be home after weeks on fire lines

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They're home.  After more than 16 days of serving on the front lines of the Thomas Fire, crews the Five Cities Fire Authority are back in time for the holidays.

But it didn't come without some very long days.  "I think it was Monday morning, we pulled into Ventura and it was a pretty insane scene with the hills on fire," Daniel Densmore, a firefighter with Five Cities, said. "When we pulled off of the ramp, the off ramp was on fire so we had to put that out."

After extinguishing the ramp, Densmore and the Five Cities fire crew were assigned to structure protection.  "We were deployed into the highlands into the foothills above Ventura City and spent about the next 36 almost 38 hours actively engaged in fire suppression, structural protection and running our tactics to try and save as much as we could and keep the fire from progressing any further into Ventura," Captain Patrick Ferguson explained.

During those first intense days, the Five Cities Fire Authority and the engines they were teamed with were on their own - whatever water, food, and supplies they had with them would be it.  "So for the first almost 40 hours we were just on the line straight without relief," Ferguson said.

Densmore said the crews were often on the line for 24 hours, and on their days off, "we would go back to base camp and kind of sleep in the engine or sleep on cots."

Sleeping on the front lines of the fire, or at least hunkering down, was a different story.  Ferguson said, "it got cold.  We were in the low 40's to upper 30's for several of the nights.  So a lot of down jackets and beaning to kind of keep everybody warm when we were out on the line." 

And it wasn't just keeping warm and fed that the Five Cities Fire Authority were concerned with, their water supply for fighting the fire was limited.  Pumps to feed hydrants at the top of the hills in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties lost power, which limited the water crews could use to gravity fed water from water tanks at higher elevations. "If too many of us were hooked up to a hydrant at one time we would start to loose pressure so we had to orchestrate that between engineers so we weren't stealing water from one engine to another," said Ferguson.

After 16 days on the front lines, the first responding team from the Five Cities Fire Authority got some relief.  "After two weeks you're pretty shot, especially the assignment the guys had before us they worked really hard and had to overcome a lot of obstacles," Joe Farnsworth, a Five Cities Fire Authority Engineer, said.  

Farnsworth was one of four fire crew members who came to relieve the first team before the second wind event.  He and Fire Captain Tom Hughey both said the previous fire crews did such a good job that they had to look hard for hotspots. 

However it was still a bit surreal.  "As in activity it was very low for us for my experience, but as for the size of it, this was the largest fire that I had been on in my career," Captain Hughey.

No matter how long they were on the front lines, the Five Cities Fire Authority crew members were glad to be home for the holiday.

"We were kind of the bubble.  We weren't too sure if we were going to make it home for Christmas if anybody was going to make it home for Christmas for that matter, let alone just us," Captain Ferguson said.

"It was very important to be back in time to see my daughter's first Christmas.  And also for the people affected I'm glad they get to go back, too," Densmore said.

"We're pretty happy to be back. I know our families are probably happy to have us back home. But we would have stayed out there if they needed us," said Captain Hughey.

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