San Marino Firefighter-Paramedic Dave Tannehill has been deployed in the battle against the Lake Fire, a blaze that as of Tuesday afternoon had consumed more than 31,000 acres and was 65% contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The fire began on Aug. 12 near the northern rim of the Angeles National Forest and is currently holding in steep and rugged terrain northeast of Interstate 5 and south of Highway 138. The cause of the fire is under investigation.
One of more than 1,800 professionals who have been assigned to the Lake Fire, Tannehill is serving as a fire line paramedic. He was first stationed at the scene on Aug. 17 and will spend at least 14 days at the site.
“It is very hot,” Tannehill said by phone from the scene, referring to the scorching summer temperatures in which crews are combating the fire.
Hand crews work in concert with heavy equipment to build a containment line around the body of the blaze. Backfires are then set to halt the fire’s progress.
“We are literally fighting fire with fire,” Tannehill stated.
Fellow San Marino Firefighter-Paramedic Brian Campbell was previously assigned to the Apple Fire in the San Bernardino National Forest, which was 95% contained as of Tuesday. Tannehill is working with colleagues from the Los Angeles County Fire
Department, the Los Angeles Fire Department, the U.S. Forest Service and other specially trained “hotshot” units that have arrived from other states, nations and continents.
The day begins with reveille at 5 a.m., followed by a hike to the fire line and a briefing. Tannehill doesn’t return to his quarters until 8:30 p.m. before repeating the routine. He is occasionally allowed to grab a quick nap on scene, but the remainder of his time is spent in battling the blaze. The COVID-19 pandemic has also complicated matters.
“The supervisors want us as far away from one another as possible,” said Tannehill. As a result, many of the briefings are now held remotely.
Though the assignment is dangerous and wildly uncomfortable, Tannehill said it “is a part of our calling.”
“That is why we signed up for this,” he said. “We are able to protect houses and property. We are also proud to be able to tell people that we are there and we are able to help. People want to know that we are out here doing this. They want to know that they know somebody who is involved in this. I hope the people of San Marino are proud to know that in some way they are contributing to this effort.”
The San Marino Fire Department routinely receives requests for assistance during forest fires and other natural disasters. Expenses are reimbursed by the federal government when the incident takes place in a national forest. The SMFD receives requests for volunteers from Verdugo Fire Communications, a 13-city consortium that includes San Marino and other agencies in the region.
San Marino Fire Chief Mario Rueda said the experience department members earn while fighting the wildfires “is tremendously valuable” to the city.