Traveling heroes

FMFD helps fight California wildfires

Flower+Mound+Fire+Department+Captain+Wade+Woody+and+Engineer+Brody+Eakin+wear+protective+gear+in+front+of+the+August+Complex+wildfire.+They+stayed+in+California+for+about+two+weeks.

Photo submitted by FMFD

Flower Mound Fire Department Captain Wade Woody and Engineer Brody Eakin wear protective gear in front of the August Complex wildfire. They stayed in California for about two weeks.

A thick cloud of smoke blocked the sun as the Flower Mound Fire Department firefighters worked against the flames of the August Complex wildfire in the Mendocino National Forest last month. The wildfire’s size was nearing one million acres, making it the largest in California history. The firefighters were exhausted from their 24 hour shift, but FMFD Engineer Brody Eakin was determined to control the flames.

“The sheer volume of work that needs to get done is kind of daunting,” Eakin said. “It probably was the most difficult fire assignment I’ve been on.”

According to FMFD Emergency Management Officer and Spokesperson Brandon Barth, Eakin was part of the first group of FMFD firefighters sent to California through the Texas Intrastate Fire Mutual Aid System. Flower Mound was one of 56 departments to participate.

Smoke from the August Complex wildfire surrounds the mountains of the Mendocino National Forest during sunrise. The wildfire is the largest in California history and has burned a large portion of the land. (Photo submitted by FMFD)

“With Texas being a very large state with a lot of resources, we can be kind of an easy button for California,” Barth said. “They can make one call to the state of Texas and we can send several hundred firefighters and a couple hundred fire trucks.”

Eakin left on a brush truck along with FMFD Captain Wade Woody and Firefighter John Davis on Sept. 11, a little less than two years after the department helped with the 2018 wildfires.

“I was a little surprised on the timing, but I was excited to get to go,” Eakin said. “I’ve been on a lot of different fires here in Texas all over the state with the wildland team, but it was kind of a goal to be able to go out of state somewhere, and California, that’s a big deal.”

They left immediately after their annual 9/11 ceremony, which Barth said made their assignment across the country even more special.

“I think that it just speaks volumes,” Barth said. “Everybody came together as Americans on 9/11/01 and then on 9/11/2020, people from across the state of Texas are getting on fire apparatus to go help other Americans in another state and uniting as one to fight some catastrophic fires.”

Eakin, who was in charge of leading the Flower Mound engine, said that they were put in a group with four other local Texas departments and assigned to a specific location under a California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection employee.

They spent most of their time putting out hotspots near the edge of the fire line. The firefighters also helped burn some of the vegetation between the fire itself and the fire line to keep it from spreading.

“After the fire would go through it looked like the surface of the moon,” Eakin said. “There’s maybe some burnt sticks sticking up that was left over, but other than that there’s nothing left.”

However, the environment made it more difficult for them to control the fire, according to Eakin. The terrain was covered in brush that was taller than him and so thick he couldn’t walk through it, but the flames easily destroyed it. The strong winds and steep mountainside only made the wildfire stronger. The firefighters had to work 24 hour shifts every other day to combat the flames.

“It was a very weird sensation,” Eakin said. “It’s like time was standing still. The days went by fast enough, it’s just very disorienting. That 24 on, 24 off period. It was very, very strange.”

The first group of Flower Mound personnel stayed in California for about two weeks. They were replaced by FMFD Battalion Chief Scott Funderburg, Captain Ronnie McCarroll and Firefighter West Goldsberry on Sept. 29.

It probably was the most difficult fire assignment I’ve been on.”

— Brody Eakin, FMFD Engineer

The second group of firefighters are expected to spend two weeks in California, although it is possible that the trip could be extended.

If this occurs, Barth said that the FMFD could potentially send out a third relief crew. Eakin said that he would go back to California if given the opportunity, as working in the unique terrain and weather of California is a good learning experience. Eakin and Barth agree that it was a privilege to help the citizens of California.

“For us to be able to provide the people and resources to help others in need, no matter where they live, I think is a great feeling,” Barth said. “It’s something that we all thrive on. That’s why we got into this business. To help others, really no matter who or where they are.”