Editor’s Note: Zack Kephart is a freelance photographer from Macon who has worked for The Thomaston Times in the past. Zack is also a wildfire firefighter during the summer fire season. Those of us in the South see news coverage of the fires out west. But we rarely get a view of what is going on from the people who are actually doing the firefighting. Zack will be writing a weekly blog for The Thomaston Times, so that we can understand what it is like to fight wildfires. Below is his first blog:
Every April I pack up my things, say goodbye to my family and middle Georgia, and drive west to Nevada. I work for the Bureau of Land Management in Nevada on the Elko District, where I fight fires during the summer season. The Elko District is in the northeast corner of Nevada, and is generally very busy. Our fire response area is big: 12.5 million acres of public and private land – ranging from salt flats to high elevation aspen stands. We average 150 fires during the summer, burning an average of 100,000 acres. There have been years with less and years with more. In 2006, more than 1,000,000 acres burned in the district.
Editor’s Note: To give you an idea of the size of the Elko District, it is 1/3 the size of Georgia, and bigger than the states of Maryland and Vermont put together.
Our district has a helicopter that can deliver firefighters quickly throughout the district, a hotshot crew staffed by approximately 20 highly trained and experienced firefighters, a Bureau of Indian Affairs crew that employs people from the local tribes who are called when needed, a bulldozer, and four engine stations that house a total of 11 fire engines, as well as a dispatch center that keeps everyone connected.
I’m stationed out of one of the engine stations in a small town called Carlin (with a population of less than 2,500 people). We have three very large off-road engines, and our sister station in Midas has two more. I am a captain on one of the engines, where my primary task is to ensure the safety of any crewmembers I have assigned to me, and to provide them direction during fires and other tasks that we are assigned to each day.
Although we generally stay in the northeastern Nevada area, we are available nationally, depending on the fire-load throughout the rest of the country. I have been on fires in 12 states, and a number of people in our district have been on far more than that. We are always traveling everywhere and anywhere – from Alaska to Australia.
This blog – which The Thomaston Times has been kind enough to host – exists to give an insight into what we do out here. The news in Georgia is often filled with dramatic images of fires in California, Colorado and other western states, but I hope to highlight what we do and how we do it, and more importantly, provide a glimpse of the individuals who are out there each day,