Wilson foresters return from western wildfires

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Two North Carolina Forest Service rangers returning to Wilson County after fighting wildfires in Texas and Colorado say the hardest part of their trip was being separated from their families.

Brandon Webb, Wilson County ranger, and Chase Bass, county forest fire equipment operator, were among 125 state foresters who ventured to Western states to work wildfires.

“We’ve got people all over the Western United States on fires,” Webb said.

Webb went to Texas from July 29 to Aug. 16 to act as a task force leader on “initial attack” in the drought-stricken state.

Based in McGregor, Texas, Webb was in charge of teams of bulldozers, engines and hand crews assembled from state foresters from New Mexico, Florida, Georgia, Texas and Arkansas.

“It gives you the opportunity too go out and learn and gives you something you can bring back home to better ourselves here,” Webb said. “You meet people from all over the United States.”

Webb said his crew leaped into service when wildfires became too large for local fire crews to handle. With temperatures hotter than 100 degrees and fires fueled by dry tinder, the rate of spread soared as wildfires burned anywhere from 100-acre to 500-acre patches in each fire.

“One day we might have five fires in the afternoon and the next day nothing,” Webb said.

Bass was called to duty as a heavy equipment boss managing bulldozers, excavators and logging equipment in the steep terrain in Basalt, Colorado, from July 22 to Aug. 6. Bass helped fight the Lake Christine Fire, which burned 13,000 acres of private and U.S. Forest Service lands.

“It’s a learning experience every time you go because it’s different. No fire is ever the same. The assignment and tasks that they want you to do are never the same. You learn something every time you go out.” Bass said. “You build relationships with other agencies and other personnel.”

Webb said that in Texas, where almost all areas affected by the wildfires are on privately-held lands, 99 percent of the owners are thankful for firefighters’ assistance.

Webb and Bass said they can appreciate the danger of fighting large wildfires and the loss of life that can occur among those on the front lines fighting fires. Eight lives have been lost in California wildfires.

“It just as easily could have been us,” Webb said.

Both men said as soon as their children return to school, it’s likely they will return to the Western states to help.