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Texas firefighters get some help -- from California

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The U.S. Forest Service has sent California-based firefighters and equipment to help battle wildfires marching across Texas, and California fire officials were weighing whether they too would send resources as their state’s fire season gets underway.

The Forest Service has sent 765 fire personnel and equipment including 46 engines, nine hand crews, five bulldozers and seven water tenders.

The federal agency also sent a DC-10 water tanker to Austin late Tuesday. Those resources are a fraction of the Forest Service fleet in California, which includes 296 fire engines, 41 hot shot crews, 21 hand crews, 20 bulldozers, 32 helicopters and 18 air tankers, according to spokesman Stanton Florea.

Photos: Texas wildfires

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Forest Service officials provided aid to Texas even as they were preparing for lightning storms expected to strike Northern California forests this week, Florea said in an interview. California-based federal wildland firefighters have been helping battle various Texas fires since February, he said.

Texas fire officials have contacted counterparts at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to determine if they would be willing to provide assistance but have yet to make a formal request, said Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott.

Pimlott said he told them that Cal Fire would be willing to help, but state and local fire officials have yet to send resources. He said his agency would weigh the need in Texas against local fire threats.

“Our first priority is protecting our responsibilities in California,” Pimlott told The Times.

He said Cal Fire must also take into account that U.S. Forest Service firefighters and equipment have already been sent to Texas, depleting local coverage.

“The more drawn down our federal partners are, both the state and local forces are going to have to pick up more of the responsibility,” he said. “We’re not going to leave California unprotected.”

But if Texas officials make a formal request, he said, the conditions there may outweigh immediate needs in California.

“The state of Texas and other areas of the Southwest are really struggling to get resources,” he said. “Back in 2008, we got broad support. It works both ways.”

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--Molly Hennessy-Fiske


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