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California firefighters return from battling blazes in Australia

Firefighter Leonard Dimaculangan of Pasadena hugs his daughter Promise, 11, upon his return from Australia on Wednesday.
Leonard Dimaculangan of Pasadena hugs his daughter Promise, 11, after arriving Wednesday from a deployment fighting wildfires in Australia.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

As the wildland firefighters, fresh off a long flight from Australia, strode into a Southern California fire station Wednesday morning, Marvin Schober got his GoPro camera ready.

Schober wanted to capture the surprise on his 41-year-old brother’s face when he realized his family was there to greet him after he had spent nearly a month battling unprecedented fires half a world away.

“Those guys are superheroes,” Schober said.

His brother, Capt. Leonard Dimaculangan, was part of a crew of 20 firefighters — 18 men and two women — based at Angeles National Forest who had worked with the Victoria Rural Fire Service to fight southeast Australia’s devastating blazes. The fires have killed at least 33 people and destroyed more than 3,000 homes since September.

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Dimaculangan, captain of the Texas Canyon hotshot crew, was one of the last firefighters to enter the room. When he came in, his mother clapped and his 11-year-old daughter, Promise, threw her arms around him.

“I’m now going to ask him to help me with my homework,” Promise said.

His parents and Promise usually greet him after he returns from long-distance fires, but this time, his brother and sister surprised him as well.

“It’s my support system,” said Dimaculangan, who has been a federal firefighter for 20 years. “That’s what I work for, and hopefully I get to have some more quality time with them in the next couple days.”

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More than 100 U.S. firefighters have been sent to Australia over the last several months to help combat the country’s wildfires, which have consumed more than 12.5 million acres of vegetation and hundreds of thousands of wild animals. In 2018, firefighters from Australia traveled to Northern California to help with wildfires.

Engineer Johnny Summers said the national forest firefighters will now spend the winter months performing prescribed burns in the forest.

The Angeles crew’s time was marked by tragedy when a tanker plane crashed last month, killing its three American crew members who worked for Canada-based Coulson Aviation.

The Angeles firefighters said the crash occurred when they had a day off and they learned about the deaths at a briefing the next day.

“You know it’s part of the job and it might happen, but you never think it’s going to happen,” assistant engineer Hector Cerna said.

Cerna said he was looking forward to seeing his wife and children after missing his 7-year-old son’s birthday Tuesday.

He’d promised the kids a trip to Legoland to celebrate — and brought back stuffed kangaroo and koala toys for extra presents.


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