Eight firefighters who suffered minor burns while battling a wildfire in Northern California left the hospital Saturday as crews gained enough ground on other blazes across the West to allow hundreds of people to return to their homes.
Three firefighters from Santa Clara County and five inmate firefighters from the Salt Creek Camp, a minimum-security facility in California, received minor burns as they battled a fast-moving blaze about 160 miles north of San Francisco in Mendocino County late Friday night. The inmate crews work side by side with firefighters and do everything from battling blazes to helping build containment lines, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokeswoman Lynne Tolmachoff said.
“They were just in the process of what the firefighters call lining out, which means scouting and then understanding what their assignment was, conferring with their supervisors, when there was just an unusual, extreme fire," Santa Clara County Fire spokesman Kendall Pearson said. "It just popped up. No one knew what happened."
The injured firefighters were released early Saturday, just hours after being airlifted to the burn center at the University of California, Davis, for treatment, Tolmachoff said. No details were immediately available on how they were injured.
"They are in good spirits," Tolmachoff said. "Although their injuries were minor, we still take them very seriously."
An evacuation order was issued late Friday for the fire that now threatens nearly 60 structures across six communities, Tolmachoff said. The blaze, which was started by lightning on Wednesday, has charred more than 11 square miles in steep and rugged terrain but is partially contained, officials said.
Nearly 2,000 firefighters and 15 helicopters battled the fire in the Wilderness Lodge Area near Laytonville, Capt. Carlos Guerrero said Saturday.
"The fire is burning in heaving timber and is proving to be quite a challenge," Tolmachoff said, adding that crews faced dry, breezy conditions in anticipation of more lightning strikes Sunday.
"That could create a whole new set of problems," she said.
Cal Fire is tweeting out updates.