A place for firefighters to rest, regroup

CHINO, Calif. It started to get a little bit quieter Tuesday afternoon. Soon it will just be a skeleton crew, but earlier there were hundreds of engines here, not far from where the devastating Freeway Complex Fire started. We know how bad that fire was; imagine how much worse it could have been if not so many firefighters were here, already in place.

Saturday's firestorms spread quickly along the 91 Freeway, the fire swallowing almost anything in its path. As flames danced back and forth, city to city, firefighters did everything they could to keep pace. But before taking the fire lines many of them were in Chino. The Prado Conservation Camp is a major staging area in times of crisis, the biggest in Southern California right now. Lieutenant Michael D'Arcy is in charge.

"We kind of just get them fed, rested so that we can dispatch them after any fires as resources needs come in," said Lt. D'Arcy.

The conservation camp is worked by inmate fire crews year round. But now they're joined by full-time firefighters waiting for the next place. This is where they can refuel and fix problems with their engines. They sleep here, they eat here. But while most of the time about 90 meals are served to inmates, with so many other crews also here Monday night, 900 meals were served.

"It's real important because it gives people places to be able to just you know take five minutes. Get their engines put back together, get cleaned up, that type of thing. And a lot of times, if you just get a good night's sleep, one good night's sleep and get to get a shower, you're good to go for another two, three days," said Capt. John Blevins, Yuba City Fire Dept.

This is where firefighters come and wait. Last week we knew there was going to be a Santa Ana wind event. So instead of just waiting for a fire, many crews from Northern California hit the road and came here. So when Saturday morning's fires started roaring through Corona, several strike teams were already nearby.

"You know, we used to have to wait to call for the resources, and you know, it took hours for them to get here, but utilizing staging areas like this is very important," said Capt. Steve Walker, Alameda County Fire Dept.

But besides more tents to sleep in and more meals to eat, more portable toilets also were delivered here, because of the increased number of firefighters. Some of the firefighters are starting to leave, but you can bet they'll return if the Santa Ana winds also return.

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