Dozens of Bay Area firefighters arrived in Southern California Thursday to aid search-and-rescue operations in places devastated by mudslides following the Thomas Fire.
State officials say agencies from Marin, Contra Costa, Alameda and San Mateo counties have sent resources to the region hit by slides that have killed at least 17 people.
The mudslides were triggered early Tuesday morning when heavy rains hit hills recently scorched by the massive Thomas Fire, the largest blaze in state history.
Some local firefighters are back in areas they helped save from flames weeks ago.
“We walked away very confident in the way the fire was put to bed,” said Marin County Fire Battalion Chief Bret McTigue, who’s leading a 30-member team that arrived in Montecito Thursday morning.
About half of the team protected multimillion-dollar homes in the same area, along the same streets, Cold Springs and Hot Springs roads, about three weeks ago.
“Coming back, it’s almost surreal to see the devastation, the mud flow, the debris,” McTigue said in a phone interview hours after he arrived. “It doesn’t look anything like it was when we left.”
The Bay Area firefighters are among hundreds of rescue workers from around the state searching through mud for victims and survivors. The mudslides not only took lives, but also injured at least 28 people — and another eight are missing. At least 64 homes have been destroyed and at least 400 damaged.
The Marin County Urban Search and Rescue Team in the region includes personnel from fire departments in Novato, Mill Valley, Windsor and Kentfield, among other agencies.
The Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) asked the team for help Wednesday morning. They left the North Bay at 1 a.m. Thursday and arrived just over nine hours later.
Members of the crew are expecting to work 12- to 24-hour shifts, just like they did in the Thomas Fire. The task force is prepared to stay in Montecito for 21 days.
“We’re going to be working in the debris piles,” McTigue said. “Our goal is to actually rescue people. There are homes still buried. There are lives still salvageable.”