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In A Historic Fire Season, Firefighters From Mexico Help Battle The SQF Complex Fire

KVPR / Madi Bolanos
Mexican Firefighter Marthlla Cortina in front of the SQF Complex Fire perimeter map.

For over 35 years, the United States has partnered with Mexico to share resources during peak fire activity. And right now, 100 Mexican firefighters are in Tulare County helping to battle the SQF Complex Fire.

The crew from Guadalajara arrived Friday at the Kern County High School in Lake Isabella, where they were greeted by California fire officials. It’s not the first visit for Ramon Silva, deputy chief of the National Forestry Commission of Mexico. He helped fight the Camp Fire in 2018 so he’s seen the devastation wildfires have wreaked on the state and it concerns him.  

“But on the other side, it’s a good opportunity for us to respond to the support we’ve gotten from the U.S. Forest Service,” Silva said.

Firefighter Marthlla Cortina agrees. She came to California in 2018 to participate in an exchange program through the U.S. National Forest Service and the National Forestry Commission of Mexico. She said she received training that will help her fight this fire.

And she said she’s proud to represent Mexico. When asked if she was worried about President Trump’s sometimes harsh rhetoric against Mexicans, she said no.

“We came with one objective and that's to help,” Cortina said. “We are demonstrating that we are more than qualified and that’s why we are here.” 

The firefighters are working in the South Zone of the SQF Fire, according to Silva. And they’ll be there for at least the next 14 days. 

Cal Fire Incident Commander Jeff Ike welcomed the crews on Friday.  

“We would like to thank the leadership in Mexico for sending you to help us in a time of significant need in a historic fire season,” he said. 

The firefighters are camping out in Lake Isabella, a small town east of Bakersfield with a population of nearly 3,500 people. Still, some local residents were surprised to learn of their arrival. 

Eric Swiggum said he worked as a firefighter in Los Angeles County before he retired 12 years ago and moved to Lake Isabella. He said he’s familiar with the strenuous efforts it takes to battle a fire and as a lifelong California resident he’s sad to see the state burning at such an alarming rate. 

“It’s devastating,” Swiggum said. “So I’m grateful [the firefighters] are here to help.” 

Madi Bolanos covered immigration and underserved communities for KVPR from 2020-2022. Before joining the station, she interned for POLITCO in Washington D.C. where she reported on US trade and agriculture as well as indigenous women’s issues during the Canadian election. She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a minor in anthropology from San Francisco State University. Madi spent a semester studying at the Danish Media and Journalism School where she covered EU policies in Brussels and alleged police brutality at the Croatian-Serbian border.
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