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Delaware wildfire crew returns home from California

Eli Chen/Delaware Public Media


After two weeks of fighting wildfires out West, a crew of firefighters sent by the Delaware Forest Service returned to the First State Tuesday morning.

The 20-person team was assigned to control the Fork Complex Fire, a fire near Hayfork, California. The blaze covered nearly 28,000 acres in the Shasta Trinity Forest.

The Delaware crew was among about 2,400 personnel working to control the blaze. When it arrived, the fire was 5 percent contained. As the crew completed its assignment,  it was about 26 percent contained.


Delaware’s crew boss Erich Burkentine says they were dealing with fire from day one.


“ We just happened to be in the beginning stages of the fire, where we saw a lot of activity. I mean, we were in fire every day, sometimes we can go 2 weeks and never see the main portion of the fire. In this case, we were right there in the thick of it," said Burkentine.

For Matt Paul, a volunteer firefighter at Aetna-Newark and a computer science major at University of Delaware, this was his first time fighting a wildfire.


“16 hours a day, every day for two weeks… that was a new experience for me," said Paul.

Others were veterans, like Nikki Testa, who’ve worked through 15 wildfire seasons and she knew what she was in for.  


“I’ve done it for so long I’m just used to it now," said Testa. "So I don’t really think about it, you just drag yourself through the day.”


Toward the end of their two-week assignment, federal fire officials raised the National Preparedness Level to level 5, which is the maximum level. The need for personnel and resources in the western U.S. is so great that the federal government sent 200 active military personnel to attend to these wildfires.

Testa, who has fought fires for 15 seasons, says she realizes she’s probably not done with her service, given the length of this year’s wildfire season.

“Usually by the end of August, we’re wrapping things up. This season, it sounds like it’s going to go into September so we’re going to have an extended fire season this year and repack everything because I might go out again," said Testa.

The Maryland Forest Service sent out a firefighting crew last weekend, led by Michael Valenti, Delaware’s state forester.

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