The Sierra National Forest Crane Valley Hotshot crew stationed in North Fork were busy last week preparing to travel to Puerto Rico to assist with sorely needed hurricane relief, after what has been called the worst natural disaster in 100 years on the island.
Most of the island’s residents still lack electricity and clean water. Estimates have been made that the island lost 80% of its crops (bananas, papayas, coffee and citrus), 90% of poultry, and more than 2 million of its 2.6 million birds.
One of the crew, Rene Hernandez, has been preparing himself for what he will see when he arrives by looking at video and pictures of the horrific damage that Hurricane Maria caused when it viciously struck landfall on Sept. 20, with 150 mph winds.
In March, Puerto Rico was a vacation destination for him and his girlfriend. Their visit centered around Old San Juan, Isla Verde and La Cocoa Falls.
Now he is traveling for a different reason. “We’re going from saving people’s houses (fighting the Railroad Fire) to helping people out in Puerto Rico,” Hernandez said. “It’s making a difference.” He is one of two Spanish speaking crew members.
“We are transitioning from the Railroad Fire . . . we have moved to chain saws,” Hernandez said.
The crew will remove trees from roadways allowing residents and relief workers access to rural areas on the island. “[We’ll be] clearing out trees making it easier to get supplies to people. I’m just ready to help out,” the seasonal firefighter said.
“The hotshots are an all-risk national and international resource prepared to assist with not only wildfires, but all natural and manmade disasters, including earthquakes and hurricanes,” USFS Public Information Assistant/Media Specialist Alex Olow said in a press release.
In contrast to travel in the past, no fuels for chain saws or flare guns can be carried on the plane transporting them to the island. “Those things get ordered and we can check them out,” Robert Moreno, Captain 1A, said. An incident management team is already on the island making preparations for disaster relief efforts.”
Crew members are limited to 60-pounds of gear and personal items including uniforms.
“We carry what we need to be self-sustaining for at least five days - so we don’t use their resources,” Moreno said. “This means chain saws are emptied and purged before they are packed.”
Water, water filters and ready to eat meals are also carried with the crew.
The crew was scheduled to leave California today (Saturday) with no set date for their return.