MONUMENT - The life of a hotshot firefighter is demanding, rigorous and draining. It requires high physical fitness standards and ability to undertake difficult, dangerous and stressful assignments.
On June 25, the 20 member Pike Hotshots - based on Monument - returned home from fighting the West Fork Complex Fire. A few days later, after some much needed rest and relaxation, the Hotshots were ready to be called upon again.
“They go out for 14 days and then come home for two,” said Linda Hecker, public information officer for the United States Forest Service Rocky Mountain Regional Office. “They have the most experience and the highest qualifications. They are the equivalent of the marines.”
The West Fork Fire, a complex of four separate fires, is the largest fire - in known history - in that part of Colorado. As of June 27, more than 80,000 acres had been burned.
The Hayman Fire of 2002 remains the biggest in Colorado history after it burned around 138,000 acres and forced the evacuation of thousands.
Much like the recent Black Forest Fire and Waldo Canyon Fire of 2012, the West Fork Fire's behavior has been extreme for several reasons; namely the extreme heat and the high winds, as well as the dry, dead Spruce forest it is burning through.
“This has been a very active fire season compared to some other years,” Hecker said. “On (June 25) alone we had 12 new starts in the state.
The Hotshots are the guys who get in the teeth of the fire. They get grimy and drenched in sweat hacking out a fire line in the blackened smoke-filled middle of nowhere.
They are part of America's first line of defense in what is a difficult wildfire season. Before it's over sometime in the fall, nearly 100 Hotshot crews will have logged thousands of miles across the West. Each firefighter will rack up more than 1,000 hours of overtime pay.
The Pike Hotshots usually stick around the Rocky Mountain region, which includes Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas. There are five wild land Hotshot crews in Colorado.
They hope their most severe injuries will be only scrapes and bruises. So far, no member of the Pike Hotshots has been seriously injured this fire season.
“They'll be helped out by the monsoons, which usually start to hit the second week of July,” Hecker said.
The Pike Interagency Hotshot Crew began in 1962 as the Roosevelt Inter-Regional Fire Suppression Crew (IR Crew).