Back From The Battle

Local crews return for July 4 watch


A member of the Granite Hills Hotshots in training.

A member of the Granite Hills Hotshots in training.

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Rim Country firefighters spent the week helping fight wildfires around the state, but returned to Payson Thursday to stand guard against mishaps at the town’s big July 4 celebration.

Hellsgate and Payson fire departments sent crews early in the week to the Yarnell Hill Fire after 19 firefighters were killed. The fire’s management team pulled nearly everyone off the blaze to grieve the losses, replacing them with teams from around the U.S. — including those from Rim Country.

Hellsgate Fire Chief Gary Hatch arrived Monday morning.

As the Arizona Fire Chiefs Association president, Hatch said he helped coordinate and support crews.

“I met with all the chief officers (Wednesday) to help them unwind a bit,” he said.

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Photo courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service

A crew of wildland firefighters pauses on a ridge to study the smoke from the 11,000-acre Soldier Basin Fire near Nogales, now fully contained.

One Payson firefighter said the Payson engine had helped protect a ranch in the middle of the fire.

“The work days are 12 to 16 hours long,” he said. “We get back to fire camp around 8 p.m., eat, try to get showered and head right to bed to get some sleep. Then we are up at 4:45 a.m. to pack up, eat, get a morning briefing on our assignment and head out for the day.”

While the fire had continued to die down, crews knew high winds could kick things back up, he said.

Luckily, with fire lines “holding well” Hellsgate and Payson crews were no longer needed.

There was little rest for the weary though with Payson firefighters right back to work Thursday helping with the July 4th extravaganza at Green Valley Park.

Hatch said he was saddened when he visited the site where the 19 firefighters who died had been dropped off in the forest. On Wednesday, all the crews observed a moment of silence to honor the fallen firefighters.

“There is still plenty of active fire season ahead of us and we need to remember and refocus on active risk management,” posted the Bureau of Land Management on its Facebook page. “Take to heart this quote from Paul Gleason as he spoke about the losses at the Loop Fire: ‘We as firefighters can most honor them by recognizing and cherishing the lessons they have imparted to us at the greatest price.’”

Helping on the fire were seven firefighters and three trucks from Hellsgate and three firefighters and one truck from Payson.

One of the firefighters from Payson told the Roundup Tuesday that they were working 12-hour days, while Hellsgate worked the night shift. Conditions there all week had been hot and dry, with wind gusts up to 50 mph and erratic fire behavior.

On Wednesday, Hatch was pulled from Yarnell Hill and sent to the Dean Peak Fire near Kingman. That fire started Saturday, 10 miles southeast of Kingman, after a lightning strike in the Hualapai Mountains and quickly spread to several thousand acres.

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