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Utah firefighters continue to help battle California fires

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SALT LAKE CITY — Nearly 80 Utah firefighters on Sunday continued to battle several blazes ravaging California that forced hundreds of thousands to evacuate.

Seventy-eight firefighters from 16 agencies in northern Utah — from Layton to Provo — left before dawn Thursday and got to work Friday. After one day of rest on Saturday, crews picked up again Sunday.

A crew from Unified Fire Authority was helping contain a 4,100 acre fire called the Lilac Fire in San Diego County on Sunday, said Unified firefighter Matthew McFarland.

"Our plan is to stay engaged and assist Cal Fire as they need and as they dictate for as long as they need," McFarland said.

The Lilac Fire was 60 percent contained with 1,500 structures threatened as of Sunday, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

"It feels good to be helping the people of California," McFarland said. "We never want to see these things happen … but when it does happen, it's really satisfying to be able to lend to the cause."

As of Sunday, the Lilac Fire had burned 182 structures and damaged 23, according to Cal Fire.

McFarland said Unified firefighters had been mostly working on "mop-up," working "foot by foot, inch by inch" to make sure flames don't reignite as winds pick up.

"As dry as it's been here, all it takes is one small area that's reduced down to an indiscernible cinder," McFarland said. "Once the weather changes, if it gets direct sunlight, the humidity drops, or the winds pick up substantially … that fire could be refueled and flare up easily."

McFarland said Utah crews haven't been battling open flames, but they must be meticulous and "methodical" to ensure areas don't flame up again. He said California's 80-degree weather and high winds have been the biggest challenge.

"It's easy to get complacent in these conditions because you're not seeing open flames, but it's still just as dangerous as conditions change because something that's behind you could easily reignite," he said.

McFarland said his crew intends to keep working on the Lilac Fire until California fire officials direct them elsewhere. He said they're planning on staying for at least 14 days.

Contributing: Sean Moody

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