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Arizona firefighters return from California wildfire duty after 3 weeks

FILE - In this Dec. 8, 2017, file photo, firefighters monitor the Thomas fire as it burns through Los Padres National Forest near Ojai, Calif. The huge wildfire that burned hundreds of homes in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties is now the largest in California's recorded history. State fire officials said Friday, Dec. 22, 2017, that the Thomas fire has scorched 273,400 acres, or about 427 square miles of coastal foothills and national forest. That was 154 acres larger than the 2003 Cedar fire in San Diego that killed 15 people. Thousands of firefighters and fleets of aircraft have been battling the blaze since Dec. 4. A firefighter and a woman fleeing the blaze died. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File)

PHOENIX — Nearly 200 Arizona firefighters who were sent to California to help battle a series of deadly wildfires have returned home just shy of the holiday season.

According to Jay Walter with the Daisy Mountain Fire Department, the 168 firefighters from the state who were deployed to help with the effort have returned home as of Tuesday.

The group spent three weeks battling the devastating wildfires. Walter said this latest tour was a long one for the firefighters, especially in December.

“Most of the time December is our off season,” he said. “We haven’t dealt with that in a long time.”

Walter said the firefighters did an “exceptional job,” worked closely with strike teams and task forces and engaged heavily on a daily basis.

“There was true professionalism from all departments,” he said. “We did work that all of us can be proud of.”

The wildfire that scarred a huge area of Southern California this month is producing very little active flame now.

Officials said the fire is 88 percent contained Tuesday and is not expected to make any further forward progress.

The fire scorched more than 440 square miles of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, destroyed more than 1,000 structures and damaged 280 others after breaking out Dec. 4.

But Walter said the opportunity for massive wildfires could be right around the corner for Arizona, especially with the lack of rain and snow the state has seen this winter season.

“Wildfire conditions continue to be troublesome in Arizona. The lack of moisture, rain, snow has been alarming.”

“Next season we will have to pay close attention to how things are going early on, but hopefully we get precipitation between now and then,” he added.

The group missed the opportunity to celebrate Christmas on Christmas Day with their families, but Walter said he doesn’t mind.

“[My family] is happy to see me, I’m happy to spend time with them.”

KTAR News’ Jim Cross and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

KTAR News 92.3

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