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California wildfires hit home for Bills rookie Tanner Vallejo

Firefighters in Northern California have been battling wildfires that, as of Monday, have killed 41 people, destroyed 5,700 homes and burned more than 213,000 acres. AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- As several of his Buffalo Bills teammates returned home last week, rookie linebacker Tanner Vallejo did not spend his bye week in his native California. For several members of Vallejo's family, duty called.

Vallejo's father, Rick, and his two older brothers, Cody and Zach, are all firefighters helping to stop the spread of fires that have killed 41 people this month, destroyed 5,700 homes and burned more than 213,000 acres.

One of the blazes forced Vallejo's mother, Kelly, and his younger brother, Hunter, to evacuate their Penn Valley, California, home early last week.

They have since been allowed to return home. The "Lobo fire," north of Sacramento, was almost fully contained by Sunday.

"Just a scary deal. You can't mess with Mother Nature," Vallejo, a sixth-round draft pick who played at Boise State, said in the Bills locker room Monday. "The winds changed, thankfully, and pushed it the other way. But there are still some structures burning and people's homes burning. Thoughts go out to them."

Wildfires are regular occurrences in California, but Vallejo recalls them rarely threatening his family's home.

"It has been dry out there a lot, so it's just been waiting to happen," he said. "Just thankful that more houses didn't burn [in the Penn Valley area]."

Both Rick and Zach are firefighters in the Lake Tahoe region, while Cody lives in Southern California and is working separate fires in that area. They work shifts of 24 hours on fires lines, followed by 24 hours of rest.

Rick is a fire captain who helps train inmates in what are called conservation camps, programs in which prisoners "provide an able-bodied, trained work force for fire suppression and other emergencies such as floods and earthquakes," according to the state.

"They fight fires and save homes," Vallejo said. "They can walk around and do whatever on the camp. A lot of them love it there because you're not locked down in a cell."

In the profession for about 30 years, Rick is nearing retirement, but Kelly wants him to continue working despite the dangers of his job.

Vallejo, who has appeared in four games this season on special teams, is also comfortable with his family's line of work.

"It doesn't worry me because I know who they are and what they're capable of," he said. "I think that they're real good at handling crazy situations like that. But at the end of the day, you never know what a fire is going to do. You hear of firefighters dying on the line.

"So I just keep them in my prayers. Just always tell your loved ones you love them."