Some of the South Mississippi firefighters who helped bring the largest wildfire in Arizona history under control are back in the Magnolia state. Several firefighters from De Soto Ranger District were part of the group sent to battle massive fires out West. In Arizona alone the blazes burned more than 400 structures causing an estimated 28 million dollars in damage.
Eric Strickland has been a firefighter for about a year. During the two weeks he spent fighting wildfires out in Arizona he saw two separate fires merge and turn a once thriving mountain range into nothing more than wasteland. Strickland had some experience fighting blazes in Montana, but he says Arizona was a whole different animal..
"In Montana it just blew up fast and a lot of acres were burned, but not near what was done in Arizona. It's just amazing how much fire can do so fast," Strickland said.
Even longtime firefighters admit they had some anxious moments.
Mike Lick has been fighting forest fires for 15 years.
"That fire in Arizona was moving extremely fast," Lick said.
"Our first day that they actually put us on the line we were kind of like right in front of the fire and keeping the fire away from some structures. That was pretty exciting and almost pretty scary."
Buzz Williams was the only one in the group sent to Colorado. He says firefighters did all they could to prevent people's homes from going up in flames, but there were times when even their best wasn't good enough.
"Sometimes during the day the fire would just explode and take out a few [homes]. No way to protect them," Williams said.
The devastation was hard on the men emotionally, but they coped by focusing on their triumphs instead of their loses, and by keeping their sense of humor. The firefighters say they expect to be sent back out next week, although they aren't sure where. There are six other firefighters from the same district currently working in Arizona.