BARSTOW - They want to go back.
Albert Rickwalt and Martin Yslas, firefighters with the Marine Corps Logistics Base in Barstow, recently returned from the fire lines, replaced by fellow firefighters from the department, but after a little rest, the two are ready to trek back out and fight the wildfires still scorching southern California forests.
"I wish I could still be there," Yslas said. "I didn't want to come back."
"It felt really good to wake up and know we were going to fight fires," Rickwalt said. "It's not often as firefighters we get to do what we are trained to do at that level everyday."
Rickwalt and Yslas were part of a four-man crew that went out to the fires on Sunday evening. They got the call at around 5 p.m. and by 8:30 were battling flames and protecting structures in the Ontario and Chino areas. By Monday, they moved to Lake Arrowhead and Running Springs.
In the first 72 hours of battling the blazes, Rickwalt estimated they slept about four, catching 20 minutes here and there and having to watch for spot fires near their base camp. Yslas said at times, he battled winds that could knock someone over and deadly flames. The fire was always close, he said, and the conditions were some of the worst he had ever seen. It was exhausting.
"It's all adrenaline," Rickwalt said. "That's how you keep going; You're too busy to stop."
Other crews from the Barstow area have been in the thick of the wildland fires since they broke out earlier this week. Two crews from the Fort Irwin Fire Department worked fire lines in Big Bear and Running Springs, sometimes staying out on the line for 18 hours at a time, Fort Irwin spokesman John Wagstaffe said. The crews have had nearly constant attacks from flames and fought hundreds of flare ups.
The Barstow Fire Protection District also has crews assisting with the fire. A tanker truck and two firefighters have been in the working with other crews in Runnings Springs since Tuesday. Division Chief Sal Corrao was reactivated on Wednesday to command a strike team in Running Springs. An engineer from the district who lives in the Running Springs area has joined Corrao.
Rickwalt and Yslas said only when the weather conditions subsided, when the wind died down or the temperatures dropped, could they make gains on the fires. Otherwise, they said, they were just fighting to contain it. In Lake Arrowhead, the MCLB crew was given the responsibility of protecting the houses on an entire street. With fire 20 or 30 minutes from sending the houses up in flames, the crew held it back; a feeling of accomplishment fell over Yslas.
"I felt we did a really good job stopping the fire," he said.
Both thought the crews still on the ground were getting a handle on the fires. Rickwalt said the low pressure that just moved in had shifted the weather in the firefighters favor, bringing in humidity, low winds and low temperatures. Yslas said if there continues to be a need, his crew could head back out to the fires on Sunday. Hanging around the station on Thursday, both said they were ready.
"Fire in front of you, fire all around, flames over head, sparks flying, embers flying," Rickwalt said. "This is what we do."
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Barstow fires crews still assisting with SoCal wildfires
BARSTOW - They want to go back.