While the North Bay fires have left the East Bay with gray skies and poor air quality, Berkeley’s first responders have traveled to the heart of the flames in order to aid local agencies.
On Sunday, Berkeley Fire Department joined many other Alameda County agencies in sending teams to the Santa Rosa area to help with what is being called one of the worst disasters in California history. Currently, in Sonoma and Napa counties, an engine of four BFD personnel has been assigned to the Tubbs Fire, the deadliest of the fires still blazing in Northern California.
Most of BFD’s firefighters have been used in rescue operations, but their focus will shift to firefighting operations as more agencies join the effort, according to BFD Assistant Chief Keith May. BFD will continue to commit at least four personnel to mutual aid for as long as it can, May added.
“(Berkeley) itself has to keep staff available to staff our own needs,” May said. “But as long as we can take care of our own city, we will definitely send as much as possible to replace (current personnel).”
Fourteen Berkeley Police Department officers were sent to Santa Rosa on Tuesday, and since then, BPD has maintained 10 to 12 officers at a time in the city of Sonoma, responding to calls for service, aiding in evacuations and working traffic control posts.
BPD Sgt. Andrew Frankel, who is currently in Sonoma helping relief efforts, said BPD will be supporting Sonoma County at least through the weekend.
“As one of my comrades put it, it’s what you would imagine the end of the world to look like,” Frankel said. “We’ve been amazed at how gracious they’ve been. … People are coming over and offering to share with us what little they had … who’ve lost just about everything.”
Several members of Berkeley fire and police agencies who live in the North Bay have also been affected by the wildfires. According to May, one Berkeley firefighter lost his entire home in the blaze.
Many BPD personnel have also been volunteering their days off to support the mutual aid effort, Berkeley Police Chief Andrew Greenwood said.
“When bad things happen in our community … it will be communities like Sonoma and surrounding communities that will support us in our time of need,” Frankel said.