Exhausted Firefighters Are Finally Getting Some Downtime, but Just for Awhile

Neither wind nor ash nor heat nor flame can keep California's bravest down.

At Kit Carson Park, the main staging area for the San Diego County wildfires, crews from around the state gathered to get a bit of rest, grub and a shower before heading back to fight on another line.

"These are big fires and there are many of them, but the guys are working real hard," said Fire Capt. Rob Beuch of the Newport Beach Fire Department. "This is our trade so the guys, they live for helping others; that's their whole life so when you can do it in a big way, it makes it really meaningful."

Beuch's crew had driven down from Orange County where they fought the Santiago fire, which had blackened more than 22,000 acres east of Irving, and is believed to have been started by an arsonist.

Nearby, a trio of firefighters from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection awaited word on their next assignment after helping to nearly contain the Buckweed fire in the Santa Clarita Valley.

"These are the largest and biggest ones that you end up getting in your career," Fire Capt. Michael Maendle said.

At Kit Carson Park, seasoned firefighters mingled with a surprising breed of blaze battlers. Crews from local prisons, trained and supervised by the state's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, have also been deployed to the front lines. The staging area was divided so that inmate crews could relax their own space as get as much rest as the regular fire crews.

A crowd of civilians gathered outside the park Thursday morning waving as each new fire engine rolled by, now considered heroes by local residents.

"It's really good how it came together so fast," Tamber Garcia of Escondido said of the firefighters.

Garcia walked to the park after returning to her evacuated home so that her children Catharyin, 8, and Alexander, 6, could see President Bush's motorcade as it rolled through this fire-ravaged town. The whole family wore facemasks, still worried about the ash floating in the wind.

Inside camp, the prospect of seeing the president took a backseat to getting a little rest and relaxation before hitting the frontlines.

"You're more motivated, rested and ready to go," Maendle said. "Even on a short amount of sleep if you can have a few good things, it really helps out."