1 Palo Alto fire crew returns, another heads out to help fight Mendocino Complex Fire

- As fires burn out of control across the state, California's Office of Emergency Services reports more than 13,000 firefighters are battling a dozen or more large wildfires.  Including the Mendocino Complex Fire, the state's largest fire in history. 

"One second we could be sitting clear sky working on structure protection, cutting a line in preparation of the fire coming through, the next minute you get a wind change and the fire is blowing through and you have to escape to your safety zone," says Palo Alto Fire Captain David Dahl.

Because of the state's mutual aid system for fires, Palo Alto and other Bay Area crews are helping out, including 10 percent of Menlo Park's fire staff.  However, this department is doing something out of the ordinary. After 15 days out on the fire lines, they're sending another crew.

"That's not normal that we leave the rig in place and switch the crews. The engines themselves, the apparatus are in short supply," says Menlo Park Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman.

As massive wildfires have become far too common and unpredictable, state agencies are relying more and more on local crews to help out. But before an agency can agree to send people, they have to consider what's in their own backyard first. 

"My heart says send more but my gut says we better check out what we're doing on staffing today," says Schapelhouman. 

"For us, it impacts us as a city because we lose four people who have to go out and we were gone for 15 days now. They have to backfield, which is causing other people to have to stay here and work," says Dahl.

Since local emergencies take precedent, it often leaves the state's request for more crews and engines unfilled. Six years ago, the state was denied mutual aid a little more than a 100 times.  However, that number jumped to more around 3,000 in 2016 alone. 

Experts say that's usually because they're working with a fixed supply and a growing demand.  "Last year we had 22 different fires that we responded to in the state of California. Two flood events here in the state of California and then we had three hurricane responses outside of California,” says Schapelhouman.
 

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