Rest not an option for SoCal firefighters

Firefighters in the region have gone as many as four straight days against the fires.

.RUNNING SPRINGS, Calif. (AP) – Forty hours after he arrived in the San Bernardino National Forest, firefighter Peter Stanton stepped gingerly over a sleeping colleague and wondered what his next assignment was going to be.

“We’ve been going nonstop. I kind of hope they’re going to send us to sleep, but I’m pretty sure we’re going back out,” he said.

Fire crews, tankers and helicopters poured in to Southern California on Wednesday, bringing welcome relief to firefighters exhausted by as many as four straight days of fighting unusually ferocious blazes that were scattered across a huge swath of Southern California.

From mountainside resorts to the shores of Malibu to the Mexican border, about 15 blazes destroyed at least 1,500 homes and threatened tens of thousands of others.

Stanton and his colleagues fought to save homes near the mountain resort area of Lake Arrowhead, and at times fought to stay clearheaded as they dragged hoses and drove fire engines into infernos.

“We are hearing about people getting tired,” federal Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told reporters in San Diego, site of some of the worst fires. He added he had spoken with other authorities about “the need to rotate firefighters out,” giving them time to rest.

“One of the big hazards is exhaustion, which leads to impaired judgment,” Chertoff said.

In some cases, however, the tired were relieving the tired. In northern Los Angeles County, some of the fire crews that had all but contained a 38,000-acre wildfire near Santa Clarita were being dispatched to the Lake Arrowhead area.

“We have no idea how long we’ll be gone for,” said firefighter Al Taylor of the state Department of Forestry. “We just show up and try and have a good time.”

He and his colleagues planned to catch some sleep on the ride to their next assignment, a little more than 100 miles away.

Firefighters are used to working to the point of exhaustion, Calipatria fire Chief Chris Hall said. He worked 35 hours straight on the Lake Arrowhead fires, got a few hours rest and then was back on the lines, helping mop up hot spots on a narrow street in Running Springs.