On Tuesday night, Deputy Jack Williamson, Corporal RJ Jackson, and four Search and Rescue volunteers were dispatched as part of SAR Mutual Aid to assist in the recovery of those who perished in the most destructive fire in California history.
Dep. Williamson’s team will return home this evening and will be replaced by a second team, headed up by Sgt. Jacob Tallmon. Cpl. Chris Williams and eight SAR volunteers will join the effort in Butte County this weekend.
Searchers began by checking through lines of abandoned and/or burned-over cars and notifying the CHP of any discoveries so that the vehicles can be processed and cleared, and the roadways open.
They have also been going through homes and businesses where it is feared lives may have been lost, and reporting any remains to the coroner’s teams for documentation, removal and transport to the Law Enforcement Incident Command Post at the Butte Community College.
These SAR volunteers are used to camping out during deployments, and this detail is no different. They are sleeping on cots in the gymnasium at Durham High School, and with the facility full to overflowing on the first day they arrived, some team members spent the night camped outside.
According to Sgt. Joseph Wilder, who is coordinating the Madera County Sheriff’s Office response, his people are just a part of the bigger puzzle. There are over 500 volunteer searchers from all over the state involved in the recovery efforts.
“Some of our SAR volunteers are retired, but some have full-time jobs and took time off to do this work,” said Sgt. Wilder. “We want to express our appreciation to those employers who allowed them the time away from their jobs.”
At this time, they are putting together an Emergency Management Mutual Aid team to respond to the Camp Fire. The skills of that type of team, which include such duties as Public Information Officer, will be needed for weeks and months to come.
Once the teams have returned from their assignment on the Camp Fire, the volunteers will meet with the County psychologist, says Sgt. Wilder. There are emotional issues inherent in dealing with this type of recovery work, and the mental health of the team is as important as their physical well-being.
(Photos courtesy of the Madera County Sheriff’s Office).