Three firefighters from the Gering Fire Department are battling a wildfire more than 1,200 miles from home this week.
Gering Fire Chief Nathan Flowers and firefighters Brett Walker and Dick Cochrane are among the more than 5,000 firefighters trying to contain one of the most dangerous wildfires in California — the Kincade Fire. News reports indicated the fire had been difficult to contain in its first days, but by Thursday, the fire was reported to have been 60 percent contained.
After days of firefighters being unable to contain the widespread fire, Flowers said improved weather on Tuesday and into Wednesday helped firefighters to get a grasp on the fire and it is anticipated that weather will continue to work in the favor of firefighters battling the wildfire throughout the week.
“There has been a lot of strong work,” Flowers said. “A lot of firefighters have worked really, really hard to increase those containment lines and numbers.”
The fire covers multiple counties, but the Gering Fire Department is based at a camp at Santa Rosa, California. The fire is located about 30 miles north of Santa Rosa.
On Thursday, it was reported that the fire had burned more than 76,000 acres and destroyed 141 homes.
Flowers explained that the department is a cooperator for the Nebraska Forest Service. Through that process, the department has the ability to be a resource for the federal dispatching. CalFire, the California system, reached out and placed orders through the system and it was dispatched through the Rapid City, South Dakota, dispatch.
“Our engine was available for this assignment,” Flowers said. “They filled that order with us.”
The Gering Fire Department is the only cooperator in the state for the Nebraska Forest Service and has been for two years. Prior to being a cooperator with the Nebraska Forest Service, Gering had been a cooperator in the South Dakota system.
Many of the Gering firefighters are certified to respond to wildfires. To respond to such a fire, Flowers said, one of the firefighters has to be certified as an engine boss and the others have to be qualified as a Firefighter Type I or Firefighter Type II. Each one of the three firefighters has those qualifications, he said.
Firefighters like Flowers, Walters and Cochrane are battling the blaze by working 16-hour shifts, with eight hours for rest between shifts.
Every single one of the firefighters with the Gering department “has an understanding that we live in an area that has a potential for large fires” and have been active in acquiring wildfire training.
“This is an accumulation of ten years,” Flowers said. “A lot of the firefighters have bought into the programs to become qualified so that we can fill those roles. As a whole, our department has really bought into that process and we have a lot of firefighters who are credentialed individuals and can fill these roles.”
To date this year, Gering Fire has sent firefighters to fires in Colorado, South Dakota and Utah.
When firefighters respond to out-of-state fires, others in the department and in the firefighters’ personal lives step up.
“Our fire department is one large family,” Flowers said. “In order for our engine to be able to come out, it takes a whole department to be able to support that. We are here to help our country and those in need. We are not able to help out people in times of need without the whole department behind us.”