Skip to Content

SPECIAL REPORT: Small fire department – big challenges

The Martinez Lake Fire Department endures growing pains but remains prepared - 13 On Your Side's Luis Lopez reports

YUMA, Ariz. (KYMA, KECY) - The Desert Southwest has many things to offer, and one of it’s prime locations is just a short trip away, at Martinez Lake.

Spanning over 9.5 miles, Martinez Lake is one of the go-to destinations for locals and visitors alike who want to get away.

With boating, fishing, and other water sports available to enjoy, the lake attracts tens of thousands of visitors.

Boating is one of the many things that lake-goers have available to them at Martinez Lake

Martinez Lake Fire Department Chief Wade Garcia says he sees thousands of people come out to the lake.

“Well usually we get about 50,000 that come out here, on a holiday probably about 60 (thousand)," Garcia said.

When emergency calls, the Martinez Lake Fire Department is the main first responder. Whether it be a fire or medical emergency, MLFD takes action.

However, there's something else that makes the fire department unique, it’s only been around for two years.

Chief Garcia has been in the position since June 2021, and while he acknowledged the challenges of working in a new department, he feels it’s something him and his crew are prepared for.

“We’re ready for anything, we can do anything, I think its just a matter of when we can do it, but the personnel that I have now, I’m very confident that they’ll handle anything that comes their way.”

Part of those challenges lie beyond the water, over towards the north shore of the lake is part of the Imperial Wildlife Refuge.

Martinez Lake attracts wildlife in and around the lake

Where enthusiasts can come out and enjoy the view, and those that do so will notice a lot of plant life.

However, as MLFD Public Information Officer Charly McMurdie says, when that plant life dies out in the heat, it creates an issue for the department.

“Even though we’re seeing a lot of green behind us there’s a lot of dead brush under all that green, we patrol this area to make sure that there’s no smoke coming from anywhere, the potential for a wildfire out here is pretty great,” McMurdie said.

Wildfires aren’t the only concern for the department.

There are houses located right on the waterfront, that can tower up to three stories. However, directly across from them are mobile homes.

If one of the houses were to catch on fire, it poses yet another issue for the department.

Because the homes are located just a few feet away from a mobile home lot, a house fire could lead to a collapse that falls onto the mobile homes.

RV's like this are all around the lake, but the ones next to the waterfront homes are at risk if the homes catch fire.

On top of that, thanks to narrow streets, there isn't even room to get a fire engine to a potential scene.

"Getting a fire truck through here especially next to one of these on fire is probably not safe so we probably wouldn’t bring apparatus down this road,” McMurdie said.

Despite the challenges they face, those who work at the department are grateful that their jobs are just a bit more unique than that of a typical fire department.

Battalion Chief Alejandro Villaseñor says that the lake view is one of his favorite things.

“Well the view, the setting that we got, it’s not everyday you can say ‘I’m gonna go work at the lake," Villaseñor said.

Part of the lake's views come with both the water and plant life like palm trees.

Chief Garcia says daily interaction with the visitors is one of his favorite aspects.

"This is great, you get to go to the water, you get to talk to people coming in from California, and you get to just kind of interact," Garcia said.

Chief Garcia said he expects more people to be at the lake in the winter. Thanks to year round sunshine, coming to the lake is a year round activity.

"With people coming in this winter, hopefully we’re going to go ahead and interact more with people, that’s my biggest thing is people.”

Author Profile Photo

Luis Lopez

Luis Lopez is a MMJ covering both news and sports for both CBS 13 and NBC 11. Working his first professional newsroom job, Luis is a 2021 graduate of San Diego State University, where he majored in Journalism.

Skip to content