DAVE WINNACKER stood on a hill in Northern California as flames devoured the houses below him. The Alameda County Fire Department division chief had fought wildfires before, but the 2017 North Bay Fires felt different. A sense of helplessness overcame him as he watched them burn.
“I had engines assigned to them,” he says. “But you couldn’t stop it.”
A former Marine (and now a fire chief in the Bay Area’s Moraga-Orinda Fire District), Winnacker was one of more than 10,000 firefighters who battled the infernos, which raged for three weeks. The blaze tore through a quarter-million acres, killed 44 people, and destroyed over 6,000 homes. At times, it spread at a rate of one football field every three seconds. The damage totaled $13 billion, a new U.S. record that would fall the following year.