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Hometown fire chief faces neighbors who lost houses

Running Springs:

In the first quiet day in Running Springs, the fire chief who watched his town nearly go up in smoke finally found some quiet moments to sift through paperwork. Chief Bill Smith was up for the first 50 hours of the San Bernardino Mountain firestorm -- among the first to respond to the Grass Valley Fire and then racing back to the Slide when it flared up in his community a short time later.

Firefighters lost the last structure in Running Springs this morning. In the early evening, the fatigue was finally settling in.

"When you have homes burning you have enough adrenaline that it kind of keeps you going," said Smith, who spent 30 years fighting fires with the U.S. Forest Service before retiring as the Mountaintop Division Chief. "Once in a while you get to the point where you're exhausted but you just move on."

"The hardest thing for any fire chief is to lose any structures... but especially the impact of losing so many homes is just heartwrenching,"

Smith has been the Running Springs chief for nine years.

"Most of us fight fires a lot of years and go to other people's jurisdiction fighting fires, but it's a totally different feeling when it's your own community."

Not only would he have to contend with residents coming back to homes that have vanished into ash, but fire continues to burn in the steep, inaccessible canyons to the west.

"That will pose a threat possibly until the snow flies," he said.

-- Maeve Reston

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