The crew had left a week earlier for Washington to train 1,000 National Guardsmen before they were diverted to Lake Tahoe to tend to fires that had started from lightning strikes. Eventually the hotshots were called to work on the Sand Fire, which has burned over 4,240 acres in Amador County since the fire started Friday July, 25.
The Angeles National Forest-based hotshot crew was driving southbound on I-5 when crew member John King saw smoke ahead.
“I called out to the crew, ‘Wake up, boys. There’s smoke ahead,’” said King.
The crew pulled over and jumped on the vegetation fire that had quickly moved up the west side of the interstate and into a section of peach orchard owned by Jeff Arambel.
The hand crew used chainsaws to cut down some of the dwarfed peach trees that caught fire, as well as used other hand tools to help gain control of the fire. The orchard, which recently was converted from rangeland, was unkempt, and the weeds that grew in the place of the former rangeland provided ample fuel for the fire to spread quickly in Tuesday afternoon’s 100-degree heat.
“This orchard is so dirty we’ll be out here for a while cleaning up hot spots,” Patterson and West Stanislaus Division Chief of Operations Jeff Breasher said while the fire burned nearby.
A total of 10 engines and a dozer were on scene between the Cal-Fire and Patterson/West Stanislaus fire agencies. A pair of S-2 air-tankers and an air tactical support plane out of Hollister were also called in to strategically drop loads of bright red fire retardant in the path of the moving conflagration, according to Morgan Hill based Cal-Fire incident commander Jim Rajskup.
The fire, which started around 4:30 p.m., backed up traffic along southbound I-5 for miles as fire crews worked to keep the burn within 15 acres, and had the fire under control after about an hour.
Hotshots are specially trained in wildfire firefighting and are considered an elite group amongst wildland firefighters due to their extensive training, high demand for physical fitness and their ability to undertake dangerous and difficult assignments.
Hotshot crews are often called in during large, high priority fires and are trained to work in remote locations for extended periods of time with very little tactical support.
The cause of Tuesday’s fire has yet to be determined and is still under investigation.
Elias Funez can be reached at 209-892-6187 ext: 31 or email@example.com.