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Utah County firefighters return home after 3 weeks fighting California wildfires

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A member of the Utah County Fire Department helps wash trucks and equipment after returning from three weeks fighting wildfires in California on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

SPANISH FORK — One of the several fire crews from Utah who were deployed to California to help fight wildfires has returned home.

Crews were busy Saturday morning cleaning their trucks and equipment, all dirty from the work that had just been done.

“They’re trying to do direct firefighting on every front they can,” said Lincoln Henderson. “It’s hot and dry out there, and it’s raging.”

Henderson is on one of the two engine crews from Utah County who spent the past three weeks fighting wildfires in California.

The crews finally returned home Saturday morning.

“There’s nothing like coming home,” said Henderson.

That’s also why firefighters were working fast to clean their trucks — so they could go home.

“My wife has been home, waiting for me to come back,” said Henderson. “It’s hard on families and everybody being out, but without their support, we wouldn’t be able to do it.”

It takes a certain kind of person to do this work.

“It’s awesome. It’s the most fun job I’ve ever had,” said Tylor Hollenbeck, one of the firefighters who returned home after the three-week rotation.

It’s also not the easiest job.

“Yeah, I would say there’s a lot more than just putting water on it,” said Hollenbeck with a laugh. “That would make it a lot easier, but it’s a lot more than that.”

Especially when it comes to the kind of record-setting fires that have been burning in California. Dozens of homes have burned and hundreds of thousands of acres have been scorched.

Many communities have evacuated as flames advanced, but firefighters are doing their best to protect lives and property.

“It was awesome to be able to go help,” said Hollenbeck.

Just a few hours before the two fire engine teams came home, another Utah County Fire Department team — a hand crew — sent 22 firefighters to Bozeman, Montana, to help with a wildfire there.

For this department, it’s pretty much been nonstop all summer long.

Utah County has several fire crews that travel, as well as an in-county team that stays to help with local fires.

“I’m proud of all of my firefighters,” said Utah County Fire Department Chief Patrick Carlson. “The hand crew has been home for three days from their last full tour and they packed up and left.”

But for as busy, tough, and demanding as the job is, the firefighters say there’s nothing like coming home knowing you made a difference.

“I love it. I love the job,” said Henderson.

His fellow firefighters agree, even knowing their clean trucks will soon get dirty again.

“We now have two days off,” said Hollenbeck. “Then we’ll be back available and who knows where we’ll end up.”