A crew of 19 Delaware firefighters that departed Aug. 11 to assist with wildfires in the western part of the nation returned home Aug. 28 after a two-week assignment with the Delaware Forest Service.
The crew initially had 20 members, but one firefighter left the first week due to illness. Firefighters Tyler Torres, of Smyrna; Jeffrey Wilson, of Clayton; and Todd Gsell, of Townsend were members of the crew.
According to a Delaware Forest Service press release, the crew battled the 31,000-acre Patch Springs Fire near Terra, Utah and then the 200-acre Howard Fire near Riggins, Idaho.
This is the second time this summer Delaware has fielded a crew for an out-of-state fire assignment; the first team battled an 85,000-acrew blaze in Alaska in July.
The National Interagency Fire Center has set its National Fire Preparedness Level at five on a five-point scale due to the number of large, uncontained fires that have ignited in the western states this summer. At one point in August there were 36 wildfires reported in eight western states.
Torres has been a member of the volunteer crew with the Delaware Fire Service since 2009; he's made four trips with the team. He's a volunteer with Citizens' Hose Company in Smyrna. He said being a member of the wildfire crew is partially rewarding.
"You're helping people you don't know and will probably never see again so there's an appreciation," Torres said.
He said being a member of the crew is a lot of hard work, long shifts, late nights and early mornings, but it's also an adventure being in new terrain. Torres said the wildfire crew experiences new environments such as deserts and mountains. Moreover, he enjoys working with the members of the crew.
"It's fun for me. I enjoy it," Torres said.
Torres said for the Patch Springs Fire in Utah, the crew worked to hold the line of the fire. The 31,000-acre fire was ignited by a lightning strike on Aug. 10.
"We were trying to burn out the area between the fire and community to limit growth and spread of the fire," he said.
From there the crew left Aug. 20 to assist with fires in Idaho. They ended up on assignment at the Howard Fire, a small fire ignited by lightning on Aug. 18. Once again the Delaware firefighters were asked to provide a containment line to prevent the fire from spreading.
Earlier this summer a 19-member crew died while battling a wildfire in Arizona. When asked if news like this makes Torres nervous to work on such fires, he said it does weigh on him but death is part of the job. However, he tries not to worry about it because it could affect how he does his job.
"We try our best to make sure we're safe," he said.
Torres said he was happy to be home but loves the work he does on assignment with the wildfire crew.
"I want to spend the whole summer out there, but it's nice to have down time to rest up, have a decent meal, shower, sleep in an actual bed and see family, friends and the community. It's a joyous feeling," Torres said. "But we know there's a lot more out there we could do to help. We'd stay and help if we could do it."
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