Bad news and long days: Sacramento first responders honored for service at Camp Fire

More than 100 Sacramento first responders were honored by the City Council Tuesday for their efforts during the Camp Fire, where many spent long days battling flames and searching through ruins in the wake of California’s deadliest wildfire.

Stationed less than 100 miles from the historic blaze, Sacramento firefighters and police officers were some of the first to respond to the request for aid from Butte County as the fire raced through Paradise, displacing thousands of people who became snarled in traffic trying to escape.

“We are all very proud of the men and women who responded to one of the worst natural disasters in California history,” said Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg. “ The men and women of our city actually took the cal l— in fact they didn’t even need to take the call they went to work and volunteered untold numbers of hours to help the stricken people of paradise in Butte County.”

Capt. Rick Marrs, a firefighter in the Sacramento Fire Department stationed in north Sacramento, was dispatched to the Camp Fire as part of a strike team on Nov. 8. They left the station that morning and drove, lights and sirens on, into Paradise. They immediately were assigned a row of homes to protect.

“When we first got there and rolled into town, everything was burning,” he said.

Marrs was one of 28 firefighters from Sacramento Fire Department who were deployed to the fire for nearly two weeks, said Capt. Keith Wade, spokesman for the fire department.

As the days dragged on and the fire became less of a threat, Marrs said they would get calls from people in Sacramento asking them to check to see if houses of friends and family members were still there.

“Sometimes it was good news, most of the time it was bad news,” he said. “We had to make that phone call. We didn’t find the house. It wasn’t there. ... It was just a shock to see a town wiped off the map.

One Sacramento firefighter now has eight people living with him after family members lost their home to the fire, Marrs said.

Sacramento police officers also knew many, including family members, who lost their homes, said Officer Marcus Basquez, spokesman for the department.

“For a lot of people it was more personal and touched more lives in our department,” Basquez said.

More than 130 sworn personnel and dispatchers lent their efforts to the fire, doing welfare checks at addresses of people reported missing and responding to reports of looting.

Officers would meet at 5 a.m. to drive to Oroville for an incident briefing before starting their 12-hour shift and then returning home.

While there, they often had to deliver bad news, Basquez said.

“We were given a couple addresses from some of our officers who had family living there,” he said. “We were physically checking those addresses and calling our officers saying, ‘Hey, that address you gave me for your parents’ house, I’m sorry to say it’s gone.’”