By Gale Fiege Herald Writer
EVERETT — It was a feeling similar to watching the collapse of the World Trade Center towers.
When he heard the tragic news Sunday that 19 hotshot wildfire fighters were dead in Arizona, Getchell Fire Chief Travis Hots felt it in his gut.
“This is a very sad day for the fire service community nationwide,” Hots said. “It’s a huge blow. It’s off-the-charts terrible. I can’t imagine losing half my crew.”
“Hotshots are rugged, super-fit, firefighting machines,” Hots said. “They are the ones on the front lines of all the dangerous fires.”
Hots did not want to speculate what might have happened to the Granite Mountain crew.
“We need to honor these guys and their sacrifice by learning what happened,” Hots said, “and working to prevent this kind of tragedy from happening again.”
The U.S. Forest Services lists about 110 hotshot crews nationwide, each with about 20 people.
The regional, Sedro-Woolley-based Baker River Interagency Hotshot Crew currently is deployed to the southwestern states, said Renee Bodine, spokeswoman for the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. None of the retired hotshots Bodine knows were willing Monday to be interviewed about the tragedy.
“They’re all taking it very hard,” Bodine said.
Chief Hots, 37, is a second-generation, 20-year fire service veteran. He has spent summers with the state’s mobile fire response team, providing backup support to hotshot crews. Last summer Hots spent three weeks on the team, fighting fires in the Chelan area and near Shelton.
About 80 firefighters in Snohomish County are trained to work as part of the mobile wildfire team, and about 35 of those people are ready to go any time, Hots said.
“We’re getting ready to head to Eastern Washington again. We anticipate another bad fire season,” he said. “The same people from Snohomish County go each year, and we get to know each other’s strengths and abilities. We have great respect for the hotshot crews we know. Their work ethic is phenomenal.”
Hots guesses that many of the Granite Mountain hotshots, ages 21 to 43, were fathers and husbands.
“One of the ways we can honor them is by making sure that we help support their families,” he said.
To help, go to www.prescottffcharities.org/how-you-can-help. More information is available on Facebook at www.facebook.com/PrescottGraniteMountainHotshots or www.facebook.com/InMemoryOfPrescottFirefightersLost6302013.
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; firstname.lastname@example.org.