The fires in Northern California improved this week, with fire officials saying they have the upper hand on the widespread blazes.
But for firefighters, there is still the daily work of containing the fire and shifting into recovery and clean up. For Ryan Estes, the fight against the widespread, complex fire in Northern California is personal. Estes has worked as a firefighter outside of Santa Rosa, California since 2000.
“This is home and we’ve been here since day one,” said Ryan Estes, captain of the Rincon Valley Fire Department. “We’re still working because this is home. We don’t want to leave.”
Estes’s family and home are fine. His wife is home 15 minutes away with their two children, packed if they need to evacuate.
Firefighters here say this is what they call “a career fire,” something they have trained for all of their lives. But even with that training, the fire’s power has been too much at times. They have needed downtime and a place to refuel—for themselves and their vehicles.
Estes worked three days straight when the fire first erupted. Help arrived quickly – firefighters from all over California, Oregon, Nevada, the East Coast and even Australia. Equipment came too – fire retardant, helicopters, engines, bulldozers.
“It can be a roller coaster obviously,” said Jay Smith, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire.
“As most fire fighters have a can-do attitude. You want to go in, very task oriented, just do our job and get people back in their homes. Make it safe for everyone who lives here.”
Firefighters here have lost their homes and one firefighter lost his life.
The extra help has given Estes a chance to go home for 12 hours to see his family, and begin to take in what has happened to his community.
For firefighters, the fight is shifting into the recovery phase, putting out every smoking log or ember they see, discussing what went well and what didn’t in the fire fight.
And with the recovery, there will be the emotional toll.
“Once everyone has gone, the dust has settled, you get the deeper emotions out,” Estes said. “Right now it’s a somber feeling.”