A devastating Santa Cruz wildland fire brought Sal Corrao and Jim Kleiner back together last week.

Corrao, the Barstow Fire Department division chief, and Kleiner, a Fort Irwin Fire Department captain, were both assigned to an Emergency Strike Team that responded to the Lockheed Fire in Santa Cruz County. Corrao was the designated leader of the strike team. Apple Valley, Victorville and San Bernardino County fire departments also had engines on the strike team.

Kleiner said Corrao has worked with him on previous strike teams, including the 2007 Slide Fire near Running Springs.

"It's kind of like a reunion when these things happen," Kleiner said. "I've been on several strike teams with Corrao and some of the other guys over the years. It's seamless when we all work together."

The Lockheed Fire started on August 12 and burned about 8,000 acres. Corrao said the team was released when the fire was about 90 percent contained and returned home late Thursday evening. The fire was fully contained Sunday evening. The Barstow and Fort Irwin firefighters were back at work this week.

Kleiner and Corrao said that although several of the strike team members have worked together, this fire was unique due to the terrain they were working in. The fire was burning through a redwood forest near Santa Cruz. The redwood trees averaged around 180 feet tall, according to Corrao.

"I'd say that the base of most of the trees were as big around as the fire engines we were on out there," Corrao said. "I didn't see any actually fall, but as they burned you could hear them fall around you. It was just a huge crash and you could feel some of them hit the ground. Some of the guys from the area were saying we should be around when the biggest ones came down, and I wanted no part of that."

Corrao said humidity and plants in the area created a much slower-burning fire than those he has experienced around Barstow and Southern California area.

The team worked 24 hours on-duty and then had 24 hours off-duty while they were at the fire for the week. Corrao said the team ran several thousand feet of fire house during the week and spent most of their time running hoses along the fire line to other firefighters.

Corrao said it was a nice change of pace for him.

"A lot of the time when we're out here fighting fires it's structure protection and things like that where there may not be as much to do," Corrao said. "We were pretty much working non-stop when we were on duty. It was hard work but rewarding."

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(760) 256-4126 or dheldreth@desertdispatch.com