GLADES COUNTY — Elmer Sauceda, a Florida Forest Service wildland firefighter, recently spent five weeks in Northern California, helping firemen control large wildfires.
Mr. Sauceda, stationed at the Palmdale Forest Service in Glades County, worked as a heavy equipment boss and commonly was on duty 16 hours per day in California.
“It was a great experience to visit a different state. These fires are very dangerous, and at the same time it is sad that many properties were lost,” he said.
The wildfire was sparked by a lightning strike on July 31. Several fires broke out between the community of Hayfork and the Trinity National Forest. Mr. Sauceda was dispatched on Aug. 10. For 16 consecutive days he was on duty for 16 hours per day.
Sauceda came to Florida from Honduras 13 years ago. He lives with his wife and mother and explained it is difficult to leave his family.
“It gets rough when you leave your family for these types of situations. It is a great experience at the same time. I’m able to make some money. I took vacation from my work in Florida and was able to work for the U.S. Forest Service out there.”
Mr. Sauceda worked with various agencies like the Forest Service and used heavy equipment to help put out a 36,000-acre wildfire that threatened homes and caused injuries.
Wildfires continue to plague Northern California in various locations this week.
Mr. Sauceda said he saw a lot of close calls with homes being saved and people being rescued.
“We had five helicopters working the fire. The topography is very different with very steep terrain and much of the land was inaccessible by land. The air resources were extremely valuable,” he added.
He also worked with the National Guard, California firemen, plenty of out-of-state firemen and others helping to evacuate residents, keep roads clear, and battle the elements.
He said the experience should help him when he fights fires in Florida. He said a number of the people working equipment were from the private sector.
“There were many homes lost, and a lot of injuries and very close calls for firemen,” he explained.
Mr. Sauceda said most of the residents were evacuated and were very cooperative. He said California residents are very aware of what a wild fire can do.
Mr. Sauceda pointed out that parts of the Trinity National Forest hadn’t been burned in 40 to 50 years and that created a lot of fuel that was difficult to extinguish.
Charles M. Murphy is a staff writer for the Okeechobee News