first_imgCASTAIC – Hoping to contain the massive 15-day-old Day Fire, firefighters are constructing a 50-mile line around its flanks – defying walls of flame that are devouring wilderness as they charge toward a half-dozen communities. Tired to the bone, some 2,100 firefighters from 48 departments have fought what, so far, has been a losing battle against a blaze that on Monday was but 15 percent contained after charring rugged wilderness over an area larger than the city of Fresno. They battle from the ground and the air, but can’t keep up with Mother Nature, who has teased with cooler days and some drizzle only to come back with smashing winds, scorching heat and dry desert air. Some of this forest land hasn’t burned since the 1920s. “I’ve been on fires that are in worse terrain than this, but I haven’t been on one that burned as hot and as intensely as this,” said Firefighter Kyle Halstead, 21, of Quartz Hill. For Halstead and the rest of the crew of Engine 37, it’s about time to go home. His U.S. Forest Service engine team has been battling the Day Fire since Sept. 5, the day after it started. The Forest Service normally sends crews home after 14 days – so like many other firefighters, the Engine 37 crew is maxed out. It’s all part of the life of a wildland firefighter during the burn season, and the members of this team have been working for months with only a few full days of rest. “You get tired but you’ve still got to get the job done,” said Firefighter Adam Stanwood, 23, of Lancaster. “Everyone’s tired, you’re not the only one. And everyone else is still working so you’ve just got to keep pushing.” At least a few of the half-dozen crew members haven’t taken showers since arriving at base camp two weeks ago. A couple of them have grown beards, all of them have spent hours in food lines. They’ve been drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated. A few of them have kept in the game by downing energy drinks. And they’ve seen flames swirl in the air and do things that you don’t see on every fire. By Monday afternoon, the fire had burned more than 70,000 acres of the Los Padres National Forest, about 10 miles northwest of Castaic. A fire this large covers huge ground because it’s burning on all sides. The Day Fire doubled in size on Saturday, swept by Santa Ana winds that followed a few days of cooler weather in which firefighters had hoped to gain ground. Engine 37 crew was hiking Monday down into blackened terrain, putting out any lingering hot spots amid the burned brush. That was until they got a radio call sending them closer to the fire line. The fire advanced this time northeast toward state Route 138, the road to the town of Gorman. On the southern flank, residents in Piru, Fillmore, Santa Paula, Ojai and a handful of specks on Ventura County’s map have watched with a cautious eye as this relentless fire advances. Some have fled, others have stayed to protect their homes. Evacuation centers are getting few drop-ins, but that could change. This fire, still far enough from civilization, has had impacts much farther away. Choking smoke blanketed the city of Ventura when the winds shifted this weekend and residents were advised to stay inside. Last week, it was the Antelope Valley and eastern Santa Clarita Valley where ash and smoke spewed from a fire 30 to 50 miles away. Enormous brown clouds rise each day, visible from the San Fernando Valley to Bakersfield. The Ventura County Air Pollution Control District issued a smoke advisory Monday for much of Ventura County including Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks, Moorpark, Ventura and the Santa Clara River Valley, which links Valencia to Ventura. The district warned those with chronic health problems such as asthma or heart disease to avoid the smoky air. Some schools kept children indoors. Meanwhile, firefighterrs are working 16-hour days, sometimes a little more, Stanwood said. Often, they get no more than six hours of sleep at base camp – which is back at Castaic Lake, where tents for the firefighters are spread out on the grass. The crew members use cell phones to call their wives back home. At least they can get reception in the area – on past fires they’ve had to hike up a hill to make a call. Taking a shower back at base camp doesn’t seem worth it because of the long lines. So they’ve got another way to stay clean. “Gold Bond and baby wipes,” said Firefighter Matt Snyder, 24, of Lancaster. “It’s all you need.” Fires in the area normally burn for just a few days, but the Day Fire has burned for much longer because the steep terrain makes it hard to get to the flames. “If we could have gotten to it quicker – it was only a couple thousand acres the first couple of days – if we could have gotten to it then we might have had a better chance at it,” said Firefighter Colby Stout, 27, of Palmdale. “But the country that it’s in is just nasty.” Once they get back home, the Engine 37 crew will have a couple days of rest. Then it could be sent back to the Day Fire. [email protected] (661) 257-5253160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more