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A California Firefighter Battles His Final Wildfire Season

  •  firefighter with the Fremont Fire Department, battles the Loma wildfire near Morgan Hill, Calif.
    Noah Berger

    A Final Fiery Season

    This fall, as California faced one of its most treacherous wildfire seasons ever, Capt. Dan Cardenas, 62, mustered 39 years of firefighting experience to help contain six blazes that threatened to consume the parched landscape near his home in Fremont.

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  •  firefighter with the Fremont Fire Department, battles the Loma wildfire near Morgan Hill, Calif.
    Noah Berger

    Guidance In the Heat of Battle

    As a fire captain, Cardenas shows younger colleagues how to preserve homes and save lives. Here, he rests a hand on crew member Collin Spencer as the two battle the Loma wildfire near Morgan Hill, Calif., on Sept. 28.

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  • An aircraft circles a smoke column as the Loma fire burns
    Noah Berger/San Francisco Chronicle

    Smoke Signals

    An aircraft circles a smoke column as the Loma fire burns northwest of Morgan Hill.

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  • an air tanker drops retardant while battling a wildfire near Morgan Hill,
    Noah Berger/AP

    Help From Above

    An air tanker drops fire retardant to help contain the wildfire near Morgan Hill, as it scorches its way through bone-dry brush and trees and moves toward remote California homes in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

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  • Firefighters ignite a backfire to stop the Loma fire from spreading near Morgan Hill, Calif., Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016.
    Noah Berger/AP

    Surveying a Hellish Landscape

    Firefighters ignite a backfire to stop the Loma fire from spreading.

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  • Capt. Dan Cardenas, 61, a firefighter with the Fremont Fire Department, drinks water while battling the Loma wildfire
    Noah Berger

    No Rest for the Weary

    “If you are not in shape for it through the year, it maxes your body out pretty quick,” Cardenas says. “Laying that hose up and around a steep hill, you become like a mountain goat.”

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  • Embers from the Loma fire line a hillside on Loma Chiquita
    Noah Berger/San Francisco Chronicle

    Fire, As Far As the Eye Can See

    Cardenas warned that California’s fire season was still only about half finished. “We’ve got a dry state right now,” he said. “A lot of reservoirs are half filled. Brush, trees and conifers have been dried out. It’s not over yet. We’re waiting for Southern California to blow up.”

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  • Capt. Dan Cardenas, 61, a firefighter with the Fremont Fire Department,
    Noah Berger

    ‘I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world'

    It’s the last wildfire season for Cardenas, who is headed into retirement. “It was a good one,” he said. “You couldn’t ask for a more action-packed fire. You couldn’t ask for a better send-off.”

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  • Capt. Dan Cardenas, 61, a firefighter with the Fremont Fire Department,
    Noah Berger

    'A Helluva Ride'

    Cardenas plans to keep working part time as a consulting fire investigator. He seems reluctant to end a career that has brought satisfaction. “It’s been a helluva ride,” he said. “Every day I wake up feeling good about going back to work. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”

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