Images coming out of the Northern California hellfires that have killed 42 people and destroyed thousands of homes look like the apocalypse climate scientists have warned about for years. Thousands of firefighters and other first responders battle the flames even now, including six Santa Fe firefighters from the Santa Fe Fire Department’s Wildland Division. Greg Gallegos, the wildland fire superintendent for Santa Fe, told us about some of the challenges they’ll face until they arrive back home Nov. 7—at the earliest.

What's the size of the effort in Northern California?

There’s the coordination of 8,000 firefighters from all different agencies, evacuation of 40,000-plus people on a statewide scale; that in itself is monumental. You may only have the opportunity to put folks on part of the fire, and the rest of the fire, you kinda have to let go. That’s where the difficulty comes in—making the decision of where to put folks.

Why did the Santa Fe fire department send help?

They were calling for resources, and at the time we had folks that were available. And when the calls go out like that, we like to help out as much as we can—without depleting resources of the city, of course. This is kind of our off-season, and they need the help. And the other thing, too, is it helps bolster our division with regards to training and experience, and it brings money back into the department division.

How will your firefighters measure their success?

If the line holds, that’s great. That’s a measure of success. If you save a house, that’s a measure of success. Each and every day you just take one day at a time. It’s a long haul, it’s tough work, it’s exhausting, but the measure of success is just concentrating on what you got to do in that particular moment and making sure you keep safe, keep your [people] safe, and doing your job and do it well.