By Nathan Baker
The assistant superintendent of a locally based elite firefighting group said tragic events like the one in Arizona on Sunday, in which 19 members of a wildfire Hotshots crew perished in a 2,000-acre blaze, underscores the dangerous nature of the job in the minds of similar crews across the country.
“When you hear of something like this it affects you,” Cherokee Hotshots Assistant Superintendent Chris Witkus said Tuesday. “The community’s so small that you probably know someone on that crew or at least know someone who knows someone.
“You start to think of your family and think about what it would be like for your mom and dad, your brothers and sisters if it happened to you.”
In the U.S., there are more than 100 of the 20-person Hotshot crews, headquartered on federal lands and in local municipalities.
The firefighters must undergo yearly training and meet stringent requirements to be on the specialized team.
They’re often deployed to the front lines of major forest fires in rugged and remote areas, and sometimes respond to other natural disasters.
The Cherokee Hotshots, started in 2001, is based in the town of Unicoi, but travels frequently to the Pacific Northwest, Colorado, Texas and across the South to follow fire weather, when conditions are optimal for forest fires.