Northstar Fire Department Capt. Mark Shadowens has seen a few large-scale blazes in his 16 years as a firefighter, but there was something different about last year's fires in Southern California.
"Aside from the firefighting and devastation, the support of the public was phenomenal," Shadowens said. "We'd be driving down the highway and people would be honking and waving. At the fire camp, where we sleep and eat, people brought homemade food, sleeping bags and blankets."
Shadowens returned to his department Nov. 1, 2003, after one week of fighting fires in Southern California. Along with crews from Donner Summit, North Tahoe, North Lake Tahoe and Tahoe Douglas fire departments, Shadowens and two Northstar firefighters operated one engine on a strike team that battled the Simi Fire.
The strike team fought the fire in Simi Valley for two days and then drove to Valencia to work on the same fire.
"It (Valencia) was an hour away and it was still the same fire," Shadowens said.
Captains Craig Harvey and Larry Ochoa from the Truckee Fire Protection District left to fight the fires in Southern California as strike team leader trainees and returned with enough experience to be qualified to lead a team.
"There's a lot of devastation down there," Harvey said. "It's kind of sad. A lot of people were displaced."
At last count, the Southern California wildfires destroyed more than 3,600 homes and killed 24 people.
When Harvey returned from Los Angeles County on Nov. 2, 2003, his co-workers were eager to know about his experience.
"There's a lot of questions," he said. "They always want to know what they missed."
Other agencies that sent personnel to the Southern California wildfires include the Nevada-Yuba-Placer unit of the California Department of Forestry, which sent more than 100 firefighters and 20 overhead personnel, and the Truckee Ranger District, which sent three people.