In Vicious Fire Season, an Endurance Test for California Crews
MIDDLETOWN, Calif. — The firefighters collapse in driveways and fields to steal a moment’s rest. They sleep in their engines, sprawled across fire hoses or slumped over steering wheels. After days of hacking dead brush and setting defensive fires across flaming mountains, their 24-hour rest breaks are cut short when a new fire rears up.
In this relentless wildfire season, when fire crews and resources are stretched thin from the foothills of the Rockies to Alaska’s wilderness, the latest enemy confronting firefighters is not flame. It is grinding exhaustion.
“Everybody’s beat,” said Paul Fleckenstein, a battalion chief who spent the past two weeks fighting a wildfire that killed four people and destroyed 1,958 homes and other buildings here in the parched mountains 90 miles north of San Francisco. “There’s nothing left to give.”
Mr. Fleckenstein knew he was getting tired when he climbed into his red-striped truck after a full day defending the pine-shaded neighborhoods where the blaze had erupted on the afternoon of Sept. 12. It was 2 a.m., and he was planning to check on nearby crews, but he ended up miles down the road, with no memory of having driven so far.
“My body just failed me,” he said, as he drove past the white ash of homes he had tried to save that night.
Fighting wildfires has always been draining, dangerous work, but firefighters say they now are being flung from one huge blaze to the next, using the same old axes and scrapers to fight a new species of mega-fires born from years of drought, while dealing with rising temperatures and government policies that filled the woods with tinder. Fire seasons that once ran from May to September can now stretch to Christmas.
Even with 29,000 firefighters working across the West, officials had to call up the National Guard and active-duty troops this year to supplement. Residents have pitched in. Fire officials are letting some blazes burn, keeping crews and equipment on fires that threaten lives or homes. And firefighters say they are working at a furious pace to keep up.
“There are no fresh bodies coming to work because everyone is at work,” said Mike Lopez, president of the union that represents firefighters with California’s state fire agency, commonly known as Cal Fire.
This year, Cal Fire issued a safety bulletin about the dangers of working while tired, and reminded fire leaders to follow guidelines that suggest an hour of rest for every two hours of work. But Mr. Lopez and other firefighters here said the prescribed routines of 24 hours on and 24 hours off had been scrambled by the punishing litany of fires.
They snatch bits of sleep, sometimes digging out foxholes to bed down in the woods. On rest days spent at fire stations, they said, they sometimes answer 911 calls because the regular crews are in the woods fighting wildfires. On the fire lines, even the nighttime’s lower temperatures and lighter winds no longer offer a reliable ebb in a fire’s intensity.
“snatch”を取り上げます。G4（大修館書店）によりますと「(機会をのがさずに)〈食事・眠りなど〉を急いで取る；〈物〉をがむしゃらに手に入れる[買う]」とありました。LDOCEでは第三義に “to quickly get something, especially sleep or rest, because you do not have very much time”と書かれています。 よって“They snatch bits of sleep”は「隙あらば睡眠をとる、小刻みに眠る」のように訳せます。（Inaho）