Firefighters return from the Thomas Fire two days before Christmas

ATASCADEROAtascadero Fire personnel returned home Dec. 22 in good health after 18 days on the Thomas Fire. Atascadero was joined by engines from Morro Bay Fire, Cal Fire of San Luis Obispo, San Miguel Fire and Camp Roberts Fire as well as strike team leaders from San Luis Obispo City fire fighters throughout the assignment.

“We’re all back now,” said Alex Gentilly, an Atascadero firefighter. “We came back the day before Christmas Eve so it was good. It was a long haul but we’re back. Everybody is okay. We got to have Christmas, so we’re good.”

“I think everybody’s happy to be home,” Atascadero Fire Captain Casey Bryson said. “It was kind of tough being away from home over the holidays.” Bryson said five firefighters (four firefighters and one strike team leader) from Atascadero were part of the strike team that spend more than two weeks fighting the Thomas Fire. “I think they even had a day or two to get some Christmas shopping done in before going back to work.”

The Thomas Fire, which began on Dec. 4, spread over 281,893 acres from Santa Paula to Ventura, and wrapped around Ojai before pushing toward Santa Barbara and inland forests, was at 91 percent containment on Thursday. The fire is not expected to grow, but has done much damage, destroying more than 1,000 structures. About 1,500 firefighters from all over California were working round the clock on the State’s largest wildfire on record. More than 650 firefighters are still working the fire.

“It’s a done deal,” Gentilly said.

Five months ago, in the middle of one of the worst extended attack activities this area had seen in years, Atascadero Fire Captain Scott Hallett had said, “I don’t recall it being this busy locally within our county in 25 years.”

Captain Bryson said the fire season is still going. “It really isn’t going to end until we get rain,” he said.

“If it stays dry like this, with winds, we could still have fire danger up until the rainy season. I’ll feel much better once we get some rain,” Bryson said, adding that fire safety needs to be practiced as conditions stay dry and potential incidents are still a threat.

“Sometimes normal things like dumping fireplace ashes could start a fire outdoors so just continue to be real careful with ashes from barbecues or fireplaces.”

According to the administrative staff at the Atascadero Fire Department, the Annual Fireman’s Ball will not be held on New Year’s Eve this year. In past years the Atascadero Firefighter’s Association held the event as a fundraiser for the reserve program, and she said the program is “dwindling down.”

“This year has just been crazy so, we’ll put it on a stand still… next year somebody might do it again for all we know,” said Gentilly. Deputy City Manager Terrie Banish confirmed that the Fireman’s Ball may happen again next year.

Please contact Reporter Beth Giuffre at [email protected] for questions and/or feedback.

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