Monday, 28 November 2016 15:03

Fire on high: Locals help in mountain blazes Featured

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School children thank firefighters for battling the Western North Carolina wildfires. School children thank firefighters for battling the Western North Carolina wildfires. Chris Strickland

When the call went out for help in the mountains of North Carolina, four firefighters from Halifax County answered the call and one county ranger was dispatched.

They all came back with greater experience and felt the appreciation of their western neighbors for the efforts they displayed in saving their homes.
As of today, 11 of the 25 major fires since October 23 are still burning, said Halifax County Assistant County Ranger Adam Greene of the state Forest Service. The fires have consumed some 60,000 acres.
Those from the county who went west were Roanoke Rapids firefighter Kyle Horton; Rheasville volunteer firefighter Alex Wood; Enfield Fire Chief Ronnie Locke and Halifax Fire Chief Ed Johnson. Ranger Chris Strickland was out west for 21 days.
Strickland worked the Boteler fire, carrying equipment to lines during structure protection. “This fire never got too hot,” he said.
Throughout the area, there were 100s of houses, he said. In one subdivision alone there were some 20 houses.
What stuck with him the most were the school children who cheered the responders on as they went to fight the blaze. “I got more satisfaction when the kids were out there, they needed someone out there. The whole community brought us stuff left and right.”

Halifax County Ranger Jim Short said it was part of Strickland’s duties to go west. “He was called. It had been dry for so long. The biggest thing was structure protection.”
For Locke, “It was an experience. They put it out they needed 100 engines.”
Enfield took its brush truck while Halifax took its Suburban.
While Johnson and Locke worked days, Horton and Wood worked nights for the four days they were in the mountains helping with efforts in two locations.
“You could see the smoke for 30 miles,” Locke said.
Locke, a longtime firefighter, said he had never experienced fires of this magnitude. “For the first few days we made sure hotspots hadn’t flared up. Then we cut fire lanes.”‚Ä®Locke said it was a very good experience “to see something on that large a scale.”
He said, however, it wasn’t a sightseeing trip. “You eat, sleep, work.”
Horton was in charge of the night crew. “It was a good experience. It was a once in a lifetime experience. You’re at a scene with 1,200 firefighters. It was something else.”
Wood came out of the mountains with a better understanding of battling wildfires. He said everyone he met was appreciative of their efforts.
For Locke, helping out is what firefighters do. “Being able to help people is what fire service is all about.”

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