Minnesota firefighters helping fight California fires

There has been some progress in California, as firefighters get a better handle on the largest wildfire ever recorded in the state.

Low winds and cooler temperatures are helping in the fight against the Mendocino Complex Fire, which is now more than 50 percent contained.

Further south, the Holy Fire is still burning strong.

With 18 fires burning across the state, about 14,000 firefighters are on the ground, from as far away as New Zealand.

Eleven of those firefighters are Minnesotans, including Steve Sovinski from Aitkin.

“Nationally, there's I think like 29,000 people on fires right now, but it's a small community,” said Sovinski, who is engine boss for DNR Engine 743.

Sovinski, along with Jake Sivertson and Mike Palmer from Sandstone, have been on the Mendocino Fire for about a week. They were stationed through the Minnesota Incident Command System (MNICS).

“We've been doing some burnout operations the last couple of nights to help secure that fire line and keep the fire from jumping over the road,” Sovinski said.

The trio is in the middle of a 14-day run, working 16-hour night shifts, from 6 p.m. to 10 a.m.

“It's travel, work 14 days straight, and then travel home,” Sovinski said.

During hours off, the crew has some time to talk to friends and family back in Minnesota. The cell service is good near the fire, which the engine boss says is not always the case.

“During the day we try to get a few hours of sleep in these sleeper trailers. They're basically a big semi-trailer with air conditioning with 45 bunk beds in there. At least that way you're not sitting in the heat, because it's 95 to 100 degrees every day,” Sovinksi said.

Knowing that some of their brothers have died fighting fires in California this year weighs on their minds.

"We do have a lot of safety measures that we follow out on the line to keep ourselves safe and look out for one another," said Sovinksi. "But there are times where things don't always go as planned. It's Mother Nature, there are things that are out of your control."

Almost 200 Minnesota firefighters are helping battle wildfires across the country. Many are in Oregon, Colorado and Washington State.

“Just bear down and keep working hard and knowing that you're here for a good cause, to help everybody out," he said. "Our other government agencies and the locals as well. They are super appreciative of all the hard work that everybody does ... We're just glad to be able to come out and help, because it allows us to gain experience and knowledge to help stuff back home."