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'An Armageddon-type situation': Issaquah firefighters witness Calif. wildfire destruction

The destruction left behind form a wildifre in Sonoma County, California. (Photo: Dave McDaniel, Eastside Fire & Rescue)

SANTA ROSA, Calif. -- As firefighters continue to battle the deadly wildfires in Northern California, they've been getting help from all across the West Coast, including dozens from Western Washington fire departments.

Included in the group are 14 firefighters from Eastside Fire and Rescue in Issaquah.

"Watching it on TV, and seeing it in real life is a night and day difference," said Battalion Chief Dave McDaniel.

McDaniel and his team of firefighters left Issaquah early Friday morning for the 14-hour drive and arrived in the Sonoma County around 1 a.m. Saturday. They could see the fire burning on the ridgeline in the darkness, but they really got a sense of the destruction as they headed toward the front lines Saturday morning.

"We drove through the Downtown (Santa Rosa) area along the freeway where they had lost a lot of commercial buildings, then we drove through a neighborhood that had 300-400 homes in this neighborhood and the only thing standing were the dead trees," McDaniel said. "It was absolutely leveled."

The overall death toll from the fires was at 41 Tuesday morning with more than 5,700 homes and structures destroyed.

"You can't imagine it until you actually see it, no matter what you see on TV... it's just hard to believe," McDaniel said. "It's an Armageddon-type situation. Everywhere you look, there will be burned buildings and then there will be not-burned buildings. It's just horrible for the people down here."

McDaniel said the scope of the damage was far beyond anything he had seen in his career helping fight wildfires in Washington.

"It doesn't even compare," he said. "The fires in Washington state, we've had times where unfortunately in the Carton Complex fire, Pateros and Brewster -- up there they lost some structures and homes and that was horrible, but this is just beyond that. It's 10-20 times more than anything I have seen in my career. It's just absolutely horrible."

Volunteering on their day off

But even when our local firefighters were given a day off, they still found work to do. McDaniel said a firefighter from Bothell Fire went and volunteered at the fairgrounds to help them move 20 tons of hay. And a Vashon firefighter heard they needed volunteers at the local Humane Society.

"There's a tremendous amount of agricultural farm land and those animals had been displaced too," McDaniel said. As his firefighters went to tag along, they were asked to help at the adjacent Forget Me Not farm, which offers animal-assisted and horticultural therapeutic activities for neglected and abused children. McDaniel said he and his crew were spread out across the farms, helping clean out horse stalls and just helping in any way they could.

"Firefighters are always looking to give back to the community anyway and this was just a great opportunity to help that niche of the devastation down here and help out the animals," he said.

McDaniel adds he's amazed that the community that has gone through so much loss has been so supportive to all the firefighters.

"This community down here for everything they have been through are just absolutely amazing," he said. "You can't go anywhere without somebody waving to you, there's signs everywhere... you go to get a cup of coffee and the people are so grateful and so nice to you. It's an amazing community here."

Eastside Fire is supposed to be there for two weeks, "but we're ready to stay here as long as they need us," McDaniel said.

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