Lake Tahoe Firefighters Return From Rim Fire - KTVN Channel 2 - Reno Tahoe News Weather, Video -

Lake Tahoe Firefighters Return From Rim Fire

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A strike team, made up of 20 firefighters and five engines from around Lake Tahoe are back at home. They spent 14 days fighting the Rim Fire, which is now 80% contained. The fire has been burning for nearly three weeks, charring more than 237,000 acres. It is the largest fire in the country this year, and the second largest since 2003.

"The inaccessibility of it, just the sheer size of it, the growth in every direction, as it got bigger, it just became impossible to run it out of one command post," Captain Greg Smith, North Tahoe Fire Protection District said.

5,100 firefighters attacked the rim fire during its peak.

Smith was in charge of the strike team which arrived at the fire just over two weeks ago.

"There was fire all over," Smith said. "There were dozers working the lines right around us and we kind of knew this wasn't going to be good."

Smith has seen a lot of fires during his 27 years as a firefighter but never one of this size, with flames hundreds of feet high.

He says every day was tense, especially during the time when he was surrounded by the fire.

"I realized things were really going sideways fast and backed up into the safety zone, attempted to turn around and go back out the way I came," Smith said. "I was cut off by fire there and ended up spending an hour and a half inside the safety zone with some other crews."

The crew spent most of their time containing the fire by burning off the underbrush to keep the fire from spreading.

"These guys took the hardest assignments," NTFPD Fire Chief Mike Schwartz said. "They did a great job. They had difficult circumstances all the way through. Not just fire behavior but logistics, being so far away from the main incident command base."

"We want to help our neighbors because when we have a fire, we'll need the help." Dave Zaski, NTFPD Public Information Officer said. "Honestly, it is good training for our firefighters to go on these fires, so when there's a fire here at Tahoe, we're well trained and ready to go."

It's not known how long the smoke from the Rim Fire will continue to roll into the Reno-Tahoe area, but the work done to help stop it is something the firefighters from NTFPD say they are proud of.

"Job well done," Smith said. "Very few injuries. My whole crew came back safe and that's number one for me."

Smith says even after crews get full containment on the fire, he expects some areas of the fire to keep burning until rain or snow hits the Yosemite area.

Written by Paul Nelson
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