NORTH FORK — After a long season of fighting fires across the region, the Sierra National Forest Crane Valley Hot Shots are looking forward to a new assignment – assisting the residents of Puerto Rico who have seen their homeland devastated by Hurricane Maria.
Just five days after being released from a 30-day stint in a spike camp on the Railroad Fire, the crew was notified that their next detail would be a unique one.
Though Hot Shot crews have often assisted with disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the Columbia Space Shuttle explosion, this will be a first for this group of firefighters.
The Crane Valley crew will be one of three California Hot Shot crews headed for Travis Air Force Base near Fairfield, Calif., to deploy to Puerto Rico tomorrow on a military transport plane. The Plumas Hot Shots out of Quincy, and the Big Bear Hot Shots out of San Bernardino will also be en route.
The 20-person crews will be lending their skills as chainsaw operators to clear the roadways, allowing supplies to reach the hard-hit communities across the island, many of which remain inaccessible due to all the downed trees.
“We are excited to help out in this devastated area,” says Captain Matt Dunlap. “While we’re used to going to wildfires, this is another aspect of the job. Our expertise with chainsaws will be a great asset to the relief efforts.”
The Crane Valley Hot Shots had a very busy fire season, with dispatches all up and down the state – from the Lake Fire, to the Schaeffer, Holcomb, Red, Detwiler, Railroad and Butte Fires, just to name a few.
Upon arrival in Puerto Rico, they will be checking in at the Incident Command Post at the Convention Center in San Juan, and will learn the specifics of their assignment once they are on scene.
The fact that three members of the crew speak Spanish will be a great asset in their efforts to assist the residents.
The crew spent today packing and weighing out their gear – taking three days worth of food and water, plus tents and sleeping bags, helmets and clothes, batteries and flagging, tools, personal items and toiletries. They don’t know what their accommodations will be once they arrive, but they’re prepared – both mentally and physically – for any eventuality.
“You see all the suffering on the news, and you want to be a part of helping,” says Capt. Moreno. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Crane Valley Hot Shots:
Superintendent Charles Berner
Captain Robert Moreno
Captain Matt Dunlap