Utah firefighters to return home from California in time for Christmas

Unified Fire Authority crew facing high winds & steep terrain

SALT LAKE CITY (News4Utah) - 98 Utah firefighters from 20 different agencies are currently battling the devastating wildfires in Southern California but are expected to get home just before Christmas.

Last week, the Salt Lake Unified Fire Authority crew moved north to the largest most dangerous of the fires.

The Utah firefighters, part of an Emergency Management Assistance Compact team have worked 24 hour shifts attacking a portion of the Lilac Fire in rural San Diego County, according to the UFA's Matthew McFarland.

"What we were on is a heavily used equestrian area," McFarland said. "There's a lot of deep cinder and dust. There was some agricultural area that had a mulch farm on it. That's really sort of an insidious fuel to try and put out because it's deep and it holds embers."

Crews are getting more control on that fire so today the Utahns were reassigned to the larger, fast spreading Thomas Fire in Ventura County.

"The weather has not been cooperating as well here," McFarland said. "There's more Santa Ana winds in the forecast and the steep terrain is definitely going to be problematic."

McFarland says firefighters from every western state are there, just like they'll be here in Utah when they're needed.

"Utah has an active wildland season too so this is why states have reciprocal agreements," McFarland said. "This is why the national framework exists for wildfire so when our turn comes around they in turn can help us with resources so that's good and the training we get here, the experience we get here on these fires is something we bring home and will better serve us when we have these instances."

The Utah crews are expected to be home just in time for Christmas. They are scheduled to return December 23rd. 

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