Just as they keep local residents safe when disasters strike, firefighters from the city and Santa Fe County are in Idaho helping contain a raging wildfire.
It’s all part of how firefighters and communities help each other, dropping in and out to hold back the destructive pattern of wildfires across the West.
The Idaho blaze, ignited by lightning strikes July 7, began as seven separate fires east of Sandpoint, Idaho. Now burning seven miles north of Hope, Idaho, the combined fires are only 5 percent contained. They will be burning through mid-August, experts estimate.
It was too much for responders on the ground in Idaho to handle without help.
A call went out from the Coeur d’Alene Interagency Dispatch Center, through the Northern Rockies Coordination Center. Responding are the Atalaya and Black Canyon Wildland Hand Crews from the city of Santa Fe and Santa Fe County fire departments, respectively. They will replace teams that already have become exhausted.
The Santa Fe firefighters will spend two weeks working to contain the blaze before returning home to New Mexico — a two-day journey each way for the 24 personnel and seven vehicles.
It’s the first time anyone can remember teams from the city and county being dispatched out of state on a joint wildland deployment, something we’re used to seeing with Forest Service crews. Intensive training to develop crews to fight fires in areas where urban Santa Fe transitions into forests means our groups have the necessary expertise to fight fire in town and country.
The 14-day assignment means time apart from friends and family. The work is not only dangerous; it requires sacrifices on the part of firefighters and their loved ones. One couple, at least, won’t be leaving a spouse behind. A husband-and-wife firefighting team — one with the Atalaya and another with the Black Canyon crew — is part of the deployment.
Our firefighters will be working in dangerous conditions, and not just because of the flames. Temperatures in Idaho have been hovering around the 100-degree range, causing firefighters to take extra care not to become dehydrated. That means carrying plenty of water, along with all the other equipment necessary to whip a fire under control.
Oh, and they must do all of this wearing heavy personal protection equipment, long-sleeved shirts, long pants, gloves, a hard hat and heavy boots. The word “inferno” probably isn’t hot enough to describe the feeling of being in the forest as the flames engulf nearby trees and brush.
To these brave firefighters, we wish the best. They are here for us in crisis, and now they are sharing their expertise in Idaho. This might be the first such deployment, but it likely will not be the last.
Across the West, forests are ablaze, with more than 50 fires burning almost 750,000 acres in the western United States. We’re on pace to set a record, with the number of fires that have burned across the nation by mid-July the largest in a decade. Some 33,000 fires had charred more than 1.9 million acres by Monday, the National Interagency Fire Center reported.
With drier forests and hotter temperatures — all caused as the climate changes and the West stays a tinderbox year-round — records likely will be set every summer. Even when the fires are far from New Mexico, we see the evidence in smoky skies and fiery sunsets.
For every blaze — whether caused by lightning, a downed power line, a tossed cigarette or a careless camper who fails to extinguish a campfire — firefighters must be prepared. We wish them well in Idaho and a safe journey home. Heroes, all of them.