SAN JOSE, Calif. (KTVU) - Some Bay Area fire crews who were helping battle the massive Thomas Fire in Southern California returned just in time for Christmas.
Dean Mullis fights fire behind the wheel of a Cal Fire bulldozer. The heavy fire equipment operator is based at the South Santa Clara County headquarters in Morgan Hill.
After 16 days on the fire lines in Southern California, the newlywed got home just two days before Christmas.
"I was just married 2 months ago,” said Mullis. “Right when we got back from our honeymoon it was off to the races and fighting fire together.”
His wife, Elizabeth, is a firefighter with Modesto City Fire Department. Both were deployed to fight the Thomas Fire in Southern California and spent most of December there.
"We had told ourselves in the weeks leading up to it that we might actually miss our first Christmas together as a couple,” Mullis said. “That fortunately did not happen.”
He and his colleagues know, when you're a firefighter, there's no guarantee of getting home for the holidays.
"My son is 11 now, my daughter is nine. Being gone for 23 days, the kids, they're used to it, but they don't like it," said Keith Wolford, another Cal Fire bulldozer operator.
Wolford works out of the same strike team and shared pictures of his work on the Thomas Fire. KTVU asked him what it was like returning just in time for Christmas after 23 days away.
"My wife was ecstatic when I got home," said Wolford. "It's like seeing them for the first time again."
Westyn Herscovitch, 23, made it home to Morgan Hill to celebrate with his parents. The Cal Fire firefighter noted this last deployment was especially tough on family members back home.
"Especially with when injuries happen on the fire lines, such as this past fire with the unfortunate death of the firefighter, it scares everyone a little bit," said Herscovitch.
At one point, there were more than 8,000 firefighters from all over the country battling the Thomas Fire. Around 1,000 personnel remain on the fire line as it nears full containment.