Families reunited in time for Christmas as Utah Task Force 1 returns from California fires

Posted at 6:02 PM, Dec 23, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-23 20:02:09-05

SALT LAKE CIT Y-- Unified Fire Authority families celebrated an early Christmas surprise Saturday afternoon.

The final Northern Utah Task Force 1 crew made it home from helping fight the California wildfires.

The 24 firefighters were part of the statewide Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) team that sent 100 firefighters from agencies across the state to assist California.

Minutes before the crew came back on Saturday, their families anxiously awaited their arrival.

"We're ready for him to be home," said Michelle Robertson, as she watched the road with her four children.

Finally, the caravan of fire trucks paraded up the street to the delight and screams of happy spouses and children.

Robertson and her kids ran up to Jeremey Robertson after he jumped out of the fire truck, and they each gave him a hug.

"Glad to have you home," Michelle said to her husband.

Robertson, a Captain for UFA, said they spent the two weeks fighting two different wildfires—the Lilac Fire and the Thomas Fire. The Thomas Fire, he said, is now the largest wildfire in California history.

He said they worked  almost 100 hours a week putting out hot spots and protecting property. They were just one crew in a sea of fire trucks at camp.

"It was humbling, and it was an experience of a lifetime," said Matthew McFarland, a UFA spokesperson. "I've been doing wildland [fire fighting] for 13 years and I've never been in a camp nearly that big. It took up an entire California fairground—8,000 people were working that incident."

The team also saw the loss of Cal Fire engineer Cory Iverson. They said his funeral was on Saturday and they were thinking of his family, friends and co-workers as they traveled home.

"To go through that the process of seeing his  family come to escort his body home, and to now get to come home to our family but know that Corey Iverson doesn't get to go home to his family is bittersweet," Jeremy Robertson said.

While it's bittersweet to be home, they said it couldn't have come at a better time.

"First Christmas present right now, so, that's good," Michelle Robertson said.

And now these families will have something extra special to be thankful for this holiday.