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Firefighters working on fumes

Lake Arrowhead:

Deep in the pines of the San Bernardino National Forest, about four miles east of where the Slide fire began in Green Valley Lake, firefighters struggled with exhaustion as they beat down hot spots with shovels and axes.

The goal was to build a containment line around Crab Flats before a predicted wind shift Sunday that could direct the fire toward Lake Arrowhead and possibly parts of Running Springs again. But the adrenaline was gone.

"We're all at a kind of plodding pace, everyone has got blisters on top of blisters and we're losing our voices," said Mike Rigney, a Lake Arrowhead-based fire captain with the San Bernardino Fire Department.

Sleep? "We got four or five hours somewhere in the third day," Rigney said.

Rigney was among the first to fight the Grass Valley Fire in Lake Arrowhead. There wasn't enough equipment or people and certainly no time for sleep. The work pace ranged from losing entire blocks of homes to losing one house at a time.

"All of the Arrowhead crews pretty much worked a solid 48 to 50 hours," Rigney said. "A lot of the [firefighting] guys in the mountain community live up here. It's our town and we know people who are losing our homes. … So if you sit down and take too long of a break, someone else might lose a house."

"Everything that looks like the dark side of the moon [in Lake Arrowhead] – that's where we were," he continued. "It started in the very worst possible place under the very worst conditions it could start. That was the fire that we would do tabletop drills on -- the worst-case scenario. If it was the only fire in the state in the first six hours, it probably would have been the same event."

It was several days before he called his wife, who evacuated to her parents' home in Yucaipa. The fire made it to the deck of their house in Running Springs, but no further. He waited to call her until he could tell her their home was safe.

-- Maeve Reston


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