'It's not new anymore': Sonoma County firefighters face burnout as Glass Fire, other blazes continuously strike North Bay

SONOMA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- In the fire service, they view a day like this a lull in the middle.

The Glass Fire didn't inflict much local damage Wednesday, but firefighters worry that flames may return with hot, red flag weather and high winds Thursday.

"I think people are tired of saying, new normal. It's not new anymore," said Captain Rene Torres from Rancho Adobe Fire in Cotati. His rig and crew just finished 17 straight days on the Wallbridge Fire. On Wednesday, they committed to 14 more. They're already exhausted both physically and mentally.

VIDEO: Powerful imagery of destructive Glass Fire
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Video shows the battle firefighters face in containing the fast-moving Glass Fire that started in St. Helena Sunday morning.



"We get to see the bad side of things," said Torres. "Losing homes. Belongings. Recoveries of bodies. But that is part of the Fire Service," Torres said.

It is a toll measured in toil. As we approach the peak of fire season, CAL FIRE crews have entered their fourth year of this not so new normal. As of September 29, a total of 8,155 fires have burned 4,018,888 acres, already. Fighting them means weeks on the road, working long shifts in treacherous, uncomfortable conditions.

"Most of our employees have been here since Sunday night when the fire started," Captain Michael Alcocer said.

RELATED: 'Never seen anything like this': Glass Fire firefighters facing exhaustion as more wind threatens Napa County

Alcocer was Santa Rosa's Firefighter of the Year in 2014. We caught up with him during a short break just off Highway 12 as he took advantage of a food truck donating lunch.

"How many square meals do you get out here?" we asked.

"Square? They're kind of round," he answered.

WATCH: Drive down Highway 29 shows damage to historic Napa County wineries
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Just like you've probably done if you've visited any of the famous Napa Valley wineries, ABC7 News anchor Eric Thomas took a drive down Highway 29 and Silverado Trail in Napa County. Here's what he saw.



Alcocer and his crew have caught eight hours sleep in the last 48. They have red eyes and sunburns. Their faces are caked with dirt and ash. They have reached the breaking point that every firefighter remembers.

For the young ones and first-timers, It is a state of being that they either learn to deal with, or not.

"It is either a make or break moment for these people," said Alcocer. "They either stop, or else they keep doing it for the rest of their lives."

RELATED: Fire crews work relentlessly to contain Glass Fire, save evacuated city of Calistoga

It is one more right of passage.

A crucible, or sorts.

The difference between saying you want to this career, and actually achieving it.

It is more than a trial by fire.

Call it a trial by fatigue.


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