Central Park: Home to firefighting strike team members

Tent city temporary housing for some of the scores of out-of-town firefighters helping fire the Tick Fire. Signal photo, Jim Holt

Central Park became the temporary home for scores of firefighters from across the state and beyond Friday.

Hundreds of firefighters said goodbye to their loved ones Thursday and answered the emergency call to help fight a brush fire that destroyed more than half a dozen homes and scored more than 4,000 acres.

Most of the visiting firefighters received a request for help within just over an hour after the Tick Fire began to sweep across Tick Canyon.

“We got the call at 4:30 p.m.,” said firefighter Clayton Holt, of the El Segundo Fire Department, prompting him and his strike team to jump into the Fire Department truck and head to the Santa Clarita Valley.

“We had to drive through the Sepulveda Fire,” he said, noting he and his crew had their orders to help join the Tick Fire operation.

“The 405 was bad but we didn’t have to race up here because we had a sheriff escort,” he said. 

El Segundo Fire Department

The call for specially manned strike teams during fire season is steady.

“You news people help us,” Holt said. “When we wake up and read how awesome (the weather) is for some guy to light fires today,” he said, joking.

And, because of the constant demand for firefighting help, the El Segundo strike team truck remains packed with firefighting gear, water, personal belongings and sleeping bags.

Some strike team leaders don’t wait around to check and see if sleeping bags are packed, Holt said. 

“You don’t want to wait an hour or so to get out of the barn,” he said. “And besides, the worst thing you can hear is that you’re five minutes too late.”

The visiting firefighters joined 600 others fighting the Tick Fire, which, according to Los Angeles County Fire Department Capt. Daryl Osby, was just 5% contained on Friday morning.

Orange County Fire Department

Firefighter/paramedic Joey Kuehn, of the Orange County Fire Department, said he and his 20-man strike team got the word mid-afternoon Thursday.

“Yeah, it was a phone call saying, ‘We need a strike team, houses are burning, load up and go,’” he said. And, they drove to Central Park where they joined scores of other firefighters.

The park was closed to the public and designated the temporary home to visiting firefighters showing up to help fight the Tick Fire.

A tent city of about two dozen pup tents was set up where soccer teams usually play.

Throughout the park, clusters of strike team members stretched out on the park grass under shady trees, resting during their breaks from the action. Portable toilets and portable drinking fountains were brought in and put in place for the visiting firefighters.

Newport Beach Fire Department

“When we’re here, it’s 24 hours on, 24 hours off,” said firefighter/paramedic Adam Levins of the Newport Beach Fire Department.

“Our families have got to understand,” he said, referring to the call to leave town at a moment’s notice, not knowing when you’ll return.

Levins and his team — which includes firefighter/paramedic Brice Reiner, former Canyon Country resident and Canyon High School alum — arrived at 3 a.m. Friday.

“Things blew up at 3 a.m. because of the winds,” Levins said. “The fire jumped the highway.”

East Oregon Fire Department

Firefighter/paramedics Carl McDermotroe and his strike team from Vale, Oregon, were among the first ones to fight the fire as it raged in Tick Canyon.

The East Oregon team was already in the SCV when the Tick Fire began, helping the U.S. Forest Service by filling in for the Angeles National Forest firefighters dispatched to fires outside of the SCV.

“It was going pretty good when we got there,” he said. “When it’s an extreme fire danger, you want a lot of resources.”

CalFire FD Fresno-Kings

One of the strike teams to arrive at Central Park Friday morning was the Fresno-Kings CalFire team. 

“With high winds like these there’s a high probability of a fire,” said Fire Capt. Chris Bruno.

“At this point, we’re just waiting for the word from control command,” he said.

And, “that word,” as each visiting strike member knows, could come at any second.

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On Twitter: @jamesarthurholt

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