Firefighters Brace for New Blazes as High Winds Kick Up

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With a Red Flag Warning set to go into effect across the entire Bay Area, firefighters are getting prepared early so they can jump on any new blazes that ignite.

The state has funded special strike teams in 11 California counties and is staging them in high-risk areas. As of Friday night, those teams were already assembled, pre-positioned and waiting for fires they hope never start.

The Santa Clara County strike team was assembled Wednesday when the last Red Flag Warning started. They spent time Friday training in the San Jose hills.

The team of five engines and 15 firefighters is led by Milpitas fire, joined by the Santa Clara, San Jose, Palo Alto and Santa Clara County fire departments.

Although agencies cooperate through mutual aid, this team stays together all the time, pre-positioned near possible hotspots, giving them a potential two-hour jump in response time.

"When we look at critical fire weather, the key is to attack fires quickly and keep them relatively small," Santa Clara County Fire Department communications officer Louisa Rapport said.

The Santa Clara County strike team spends time cruising potential fire areas, especially in the hills.

Strike teams were in place in mid-August, responding to the start of the SCU Lightning Complex Fire. The immediate response was helpful for early evacuations.

"We knew that this event was coming and we were able to pre-position people in areas affected," Galahad Zamora said. "We had already learned our lessons from the Santa Rosa incidents, so a lot of notifications went out to all of our residents."

Strike teams could technically be disbanded Saturday, but it's not likely with strong winds expected to return Sunday.

"Hot, dry wind is probably the biggest problem with wildfires," San Jose Fire Department Battalion Chief Jeff Fielding said. "The temperatures have come down, but the wind, combined with the dry fuels that we still have, can present a very big problem for us."

The strike teams will have help covering territory from CalFire, which has extra staffing and equipment ready for this weekend.

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