MARIPOSA COUNTY, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – Jonathan Matheny is five hours from his home in Los Angeles County, working to protect the homes of those who live in evacuated areas of Mariposa County.
“I think my wife was more upset with me when I got that phone call. Like, why did you pick up? But, we have to. That’s our job. Our job is to pick up the phone and go where we’re needed,” he said.
It’s his third day fighting the Oak Fire, which has spanned more than 18,000 acres and destroyed more than two dozen homes. He and his crew spent Tuesday afternoon scratching lines around homes to create a space between the structures and the fire.
“We know that that fire is creeping this way. We have a break there that’s natural now,” he said.
Chase Winchester began his firefighting career just three months ago with the French Camp Fire Department near Stockton. This week, he finds himself fighting the largest wildfire California has seen this year.
“Driving up over the hill and seeing that huge column of smoke…just kind of bracing myself. Got to text the family, ‘hey, I’ll be gone for probably about two weeks or so. It’s nonstop. The first day I was on, it was literally just straight 24 hours on. Wide awake. Always doing something,” he said.
A sacrifice made worth it by his fellow crew members.
“If you got a good group of guys with you…I’ll go anywhere for them,” he said.
Officials say they still hope to have full containment by Saturday. Many areas are still under evacuation orders so the Red Cross is operating a shelter at Mariposa Elementary School.