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My Coast Guard
Commentary | July 10, 2024

Coast Guard Training Center Petaluma trains fire crews to fight California wildfires

By Adam Jaime, Training Center Petaluma

This past June, a wind-driven wildfire erupted in north-central Sonoma County. The fire grew to 1,000 acres within hours, causing emergency evacuation orders for over 400 people in the area, and threatening multiple wineries and vineyards in the storied Dry Creek Valley wine region.  

After a call was sent out by CalFire for any available fire responder units in the county, Training Center Petaluma (TRACEN) fire chief Chuck Funkhouser ordered a crew to head to the point fire to support CalFire efforts at containment.  

“My first thought was here we go—fire season has officially begun. I wanted to make sure we could send a team as quickly as possible while also ensuring our base was protected.” 

Many of TRACEN’s federal civilian firefighters are qualified Wildland Firefighters, in fact TRACEN is one of two Coast Guard bases that train Wildland Firefighting, the other being Base Kodiak. Crew members trained to fight wildfires can act as a strike team to support CalFire and other agencies to combat major Northern California wildfires. The annual training consists of physical tests of muscle capacity, endurance, and strength as well as completion tasks that prepare firefighters for the unique challenge of fighting wildfires.  

TRACEN trains and operates with a small contingent of auxiliary active-duty firefighters to bolster the permanent crews. With adequate coverage on TRACEN, fire captain Mike Guzman, fire engineer James Jeffers, and auxiliary firefighter BM1 Joe Hicks drove over 40 miles to the Point Fire Incident Command Center and plugged into the incident as quickly as possible. The team immediately began helping with “mop-up" operations which consists of extinguishing hotspots and flare ups. 


They worked until 1 a.m. PDT when the team was put on standby. At 7 a.m. PDT, they began again continuing mop-up operations before returning to the base for crew rest. Fortunately, the fire’s progress was halted, and the team was demobilized the following morning. During its initial spread, CalFire reported that well over 20,000 feet of hose was laid, and 558 total personnel, 50 engines, eight bulldozers, two helicopters, and two tankers worked to contain the fire. As of Tuesday, June 25th, the Point Fire is 100% contained. Unfortunately, the fire injured a firefighter and destroyed at least 10 structures, having consumed more than 1,200 acres of land. 

“The big success here is the safe return of our crew after a major effort to change the momentum of the fire’s progress,” declared Chief Funkhouser, “As well as the success of our auxiliary program to bolster the crews and back-fill the watch while a crew is off-TRACEN.”  

After two winters of unprecedented rain, the vegetation growth dried by the summer heat combined with low humidity and high winds has increased the threat of wildfires significantly in 2024. This was the earliest wildfire in Sonoma County since 2016, and CalFire statistics show that California is on track to have a busy wildfire season as fires are already up 9%. TRACEN’s firefighters are preparing for a busy year with hopes for continued success and safety for its teams. 

Live in a wildfire risk zone? Make sure you're home is prepared.