A safe return for Delaware firefighters

SMYRNA— Kyle Hoyd, assistant forestry administrator for the Delaware Forest Service, said it feels great to be home after two weeks of battling a 27,698-acre blaze near Hayfork, Calif., in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.

“It’s both physical and mental while you’re out there,” Mr. Hoyd said. “It’s a great feeling taking a break and reuniting with your family.”

The wildfire crew led by the Delaware Forest Service consists of Delaware-area volunteers from public agencies and local fire companies who are trained in wildland firefighting.

The crew returned Tuesday morning after helping bring the Fork Complex fire in California to its current level of 52 percent containment.

One of more than 40 fires started by lightning from July 29-31, the Fork Complex fire is one of several large wildfires in Northern California that together cover more than 223,000 acres.

The size of the fires prompted the National Interagency Fire Center to increase its National Preparedness Level to the maximum of 5 on a 5-point scale, which means geographic areas are experiencing major incidents with the potential of exhausting all agency fire resources.

“We did a burnout with two engine teams on the Peak Fire off of a dozer line and put hand line around several structures in the same area,” Mr. Hoyd said.

“We helped burn out fuels before the main fire wreckage, which helped prevent homes from being damaged.”

Fire officials on the scene have said that Delaware’s team had excellent crew morale.

“Our performance was top notch,” Mr. Hoyd said. “We had one of our best crews out there. We had a few veterans and our training that we do throughout the year really paid off.”

He said it’s always an honor representing the First State.

“We all have to prove ourselves no matter where you’re from,” Mr. Hoyd said. “We have a great sense of pride representing Delaware because for a lot of Westerners they look at us like we’re in their territory.

“It’s an ego competition, but we always try to represent the state the best way we can. Everyone seemed very impressed by us.”

The crew was out there for 18 days and worked 16-hour days.

“It takes a special kind of person to do that,” said John Petersen, community relations officer for Delaware Forest Service.

“Sometimes they sleep in tents and usually eat things they aren’t accustomed to.”

Mr. Petersen said the crew members’ lives are put on hold as they can receive a call at any time about a fire.

“No one knows,” Mr. Petersen said. “It comes with the job, but that’s why they’re special. They have to leave their families at any given time. It’s just tough.”

Mr. Hoyd shared the same sentiment.

“The call never comes at a great time,” Mr. Hoyd said. “Leaving my wife and kids is the hardest thing for me.

“I missed my wife’s birthday and my 5-year-old’s birthday party. It’s a mental adjustment that you have to make, but you have to just do it.”

Mr. Hoyd said communication between families and crew members have increased over the years.

“There was a Verizon tower while we were there,” Mr. Hoyd said. “We were able to talk to our loved ones every night.

“That aspect of it has gotten better over the years because I remember in 2006 I was somewhere and didn’t have any communication with them until I came back.”

But through it all he said there’s no better feeling of helping those in need.

“I do this because I enjoy it,” Mr. Hoyd said. “It’s a great feeling helping people save their homes because I can relate.

“I’m a homeowner and I don’t know what I would do if I lost my house to a fire, so it’s great just being to help anyway that we can.”

With an increasingly high demand for firefighters and resources, Delaware state forester and veteran crew boss Michael Valenti of Dover departed with a team from Maryland this past weekend to fight fires in Montana in the Northern Rockies fire region.


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