Hotshots have a cool season

Fire crew travels as far as Washington, Florida to fight wildfires

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This year's fire season has been slow but consistent, and that's fine with members of Craig Hotshots.

The 20-member fire crew has been called out on fires regularly this year, traveling as far as Washington and Florida to fight wildfires, firefighters said.

But the crew has not found itself in a sticky situation this year. Indeed it's rained on almost every fire they've been called to fight.

"It's been a pretty green summer, pretty wet," said Brett Loomis, a squad boss from New Hampshire with eight years of fire-fighting experience.

On Thursday, the Craig Hotshots were conducting a prescribed burn in the Greystone area, while a few members hung back at the fire cache. The crew generally passes its time between fires by thinning forests and performing other fire projects, cleaning out vehicles and training to expand fire knowledge.

The crew has been called out to the Elk Springs area several times this year, but most of the fires there were small. The Washington Fire at Lake Shelan has been the crew's largest fire, weighing in at 25,000 acres. The crew was boated into that fire, Loomis said.

"All the fires have been really low key. Every fire we've been on, it rained. It's been a nice quiet year," Loomis said.

Most of the Craig Hotshots hail from out of town. Bethany Hannah, a senior firefighter on the crew, has been a Hotshot for six years. The Washington native came to Craig four years ago, when the crew was founded.

"One of the best things is the camaraderie," she said.

At the beginning of the season, crews spend 80 hours in critical training. While learning about fires, they learn about one another, as well, building trust and finding which roles to fill on the crew, Hannah said.

Hannah worked on trail crews before she became a firefighter and considers herself lucky for landing the job with no fire experience.

"One of the most important things aside from physical ability is a wide background of outdoor experience and manual labor experience," Hannah said.

Hotshot crews are expected to be self-sustaining for 24 to 48 hours. It's not uncommon for a crew to be left in the woods by a fire for a few days, Loomis said.

"All we really need is water and saw fuel," he said.

Crews also look for fire experience when hiring applicants. Because the job is popular and positions are competitive, Hannah suggested applicants contact crew supervisors to make their names stand out in the crowd.

The crew usually hires a couple Craig residents a year, Loomis said.

The Craig crew will be laid off due to budget constraints in three weeks. Hannah has been a student during the off season for the past few years. Loomis said he travels, snowboards, and teaches.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or rgebhart@craigdailypress.com.

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