Craig Interagency Hotshots winding down 2010 fire season |

Craig Interagency Hotshots winding down 2010 fire season

Ben McCanna

The Craig Interagency Hotshots gathered for a picture with elk antlers on the east side of the Green River at the top of the Gates of Lodore. The antlers were found in the area while fighting a fire July 13 inside Dinosaur National Monument. The crew was flown into the area by helicopter and spent two days cutting line to contain the fire and mopping up the area to ensure the fire was completely out. The crew respected the national monument's policies and left the antlers on the property. More recently, the Hotshots spent 12 days in Boulder County fighting the Fourmile Canyon Fire.

Kenny Lovell, a member of the Craig Interagency Hotshots, cleans a chainsaw Tuesday at the Hotshots' station in Craig. Lovell, originally from Billings, Mont., is a four-year veteran firefighter who has spent two years with the Craig Hotshots. Shawn McHugh

Shawn Telford, superintendent of the Craig Interagency Hotshots, said he doesn't get scared in the midst of a big wildfire. Quite the opposite, he said.

"I get ramped up," Telford said.

On Tuesday, however, the Craig Hotshots were winding things down at their station on West Victory Way, preparing to stand down for 2010.

But, the end of fire season didn't come without its share of late activity.

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Last week, the crew was in Boulder County, participating in operations on the Fourmile Canyon Fire, a blaze that consumed 6,181 acres and 169 structures.

The Hotshots were assigned to the fire Sept. 7. They were relieved Sept. 19.

"The devastation was real," said Telford, 46. "It's always horrible to see people's homes burn, because you can relate to that directly."

Telford said the Hotshots were assigned to work line construction between structures.

The task involves cutting lines through wooded areas to reduce fuel for the fire. The work begins with chainsaws.

"We have chainsaws out front, and they're limbing and trimming and cutting trees and fallen snags," Telford said. "The key is to keep the fire on the ground. If the fire climbs into trees and the wind catches it, then (the fire) will jump the line."

Following behind the chainsaws are Hotshots with tools to hand-dig a trench in the forest floor.

"(We dig) to mineral soil so there's nothing left to burn," Telford said.

In the case of the Fourmile blaze, Telford said his team of 20 men cut a trench two-feet-wide through the forest at a pace of one mile per day for three days.

"We did line construction until (Sept. 10), and then we started mop up."

Mopping up, Telford said, is dousing fires and hot spots within the containment lines.

Due to their distance from roads and engine support, the Hotshots put out fires with shovels rather than water.

"It takes a lot of physical labor," he said. "It's tedious, time-consuming (and) dirty work. It's not the glory part of the job. But it's a very important portion of (our job) and we take a lot of pride in whatever we do."

Although television images of the Fourmile fire may have seemed intimidating to viewers, Telford said he and the Hotshots don't get unnerved.

Fires are predictable, he said.

"In my mind, fire is talking to you," Telford said. "It's speaking a language. Fire is reacting to natural influences, so if you have enough experience and you listen, you can start to recognize what will happen next."

Besides, Telford said he always has an escape route in the back of his mind, and he would never jeopardize his men in the name of saving structures.

"If we have to disengage, we disengage," Telford said. "To me —and this is where it gets kind of sticky — but to me, I'm not going to risk my folks at all."

Telford's men will end their six-month duty Thursday. They worked on 21 fires during the 2010 season.

Members of the Craig Hotshots come to Northwest Colorado from all over the country for the season, Telford said.

"(They're) ski bums, ski patrol, students," he said. "(They're) just young guys looking for an exciting summer job, and wanting to make a little bit of money.

"We average 1,000 hours of overtime in six months and we get quarter time extra for hazard pay, so a young guy can sock away a lot of cash."

Telford has an answer for why anyone would willingly walk toward a raging forest fire.

"You know, you're fighting a natural force," Telford said. "It's super cool."

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