Our View: Sacrifice of wildland firefighters too great to measure

August 27, 2013 

We don’t know exactly where to begin — or end — our praise for the work of the dozens of firefighter organizations that have worked so long and valiantly in Idaho and the West this summer. It is often too easy to forget their sacrifice when estimates of damages come in that tally only dollars and destroyed homes.

The statistic we rarely see is the number of homes and lives saved because of their prompt and passionate response. Nor do we often appreciate how totally different units with diverse protocols and equipment quickly mesh and perform with efficiency. When called to service, firefighters and support crews simply get to work. They put down their differences and pitch in on the mission of the moment.

We fully understand there is more work to do and this fire season is far from over. That said, we don’t know the exact point when it will be safe to take a deep breath on the fire season of 2013 — especially since even this week we have been inhaling smoke from the the gigantic Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park in California.

But what we do know is that from Atlanta to Lucky Peak to Featherville and regions beyond, local districts, federal wildfire crews, Idaho National Guard troops and even ranchers responded with the dedication and professionalism we have come to expect.

The fire season in the West got off to a tragic start July 1, when 19 members of the Prescott, Ariz., Granite Mountain Hotshots lost their lives just northwest of Phoenix. This was yet another sobering reminder that our firefighters routinely risk their lives.

Sometimes, the fires themselves are a smoke screen for the number of people working them — which is surprising at times. Monday morning, for instance, Idaho’s Beaver Creek Fire had 771 (down from 1,700) people working it, even though at the time it was 90 percent contained. There is no such thing as relaxing when making progress on a fire. Why? Because in that same vicinity from Sunday evening to Monday morning there were more than 150 lightning strikes just southeast of the Beaver Creek perimeter, according to dispatches from firefighting managers. There is mop-up work and there are hot spots to neutralize.

It has been estimated there are 10,000 people working the Rim Fire near Yosemite and other California fires. All fires are dangerous and complicated, with the potential to be deadly for residents and the crews fighting them.

We can’t thank these brave men and women enough.

Our View is the editorial position of the Idaho Statesman. It is an unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman’s editorial board. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, email editorial@idahostatesman.com.

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