Crews battling wildfires burned out after weeks on duty

PENDER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — Fighting along a fire line for weeks at a time is a challenging task. Many of the crews battling a wildfire in Pender County have been at it for more than a month straight.

“Very tired,” NC Forest Service firefighter Sarah Thompson said of the work. “I think I’ve been away from home so long… it’s just getting longer every day, but yeah I’m looking forward to going home.”

Firefighters in Pender County are beginning to grow weary. Many members of the North Carolina Forest Service are on the end of their third 14-day dispatch.

“I left the day after Mother’s Day headed toward Texas, then came back around Memorial Day, then left again to go to Dare County the next week, was gone there for 12 days and came home for a few days, and now I’ve been here since… this is my 12th day on the line here,” Thompson said.

At its peak the Juniper Road Fire had 220 firefighters battling the blaze. By the end of this week that number will be fewer than 100. A welcomed exit for many.

“Down here it’s work, it’s hard, it’s a lot of long hours,” firefighter Mike Huggins said. “We’re here to do our jobs.”

“I know my family is starting to feel it, just being away,” firefighter Rob Townley said. “My wife and kids, I’ve seen them for a weekend or a week here and there. Everyone’s starting to feel the effects of it for sure.”

As firefighters deal with being homesick and fatigue on the line of the Juniper Road Fire, officials in the Incident Command Center deal with similar issues.

“It’s just physical and emotional exhaustion, and maybe exhaustion is not the right term, but it definitely impairs your functioning as you get towards the end of the tour,” NC Forest Service Safety Officer Don Kuykendall said.

The Incident Command Center at Heide Trask High School offers a place for firefighters to rest and get some first aid and other services.

Many of these faces will leave the 31,000-acre Pender County fire Friday, as the blaze is 68 percent contained.

“Rough proposition here on a project fire, but we’re trained for it and know what to do and we’re able to handle it,” Kuykendall said.

Firefighters say they are pulling equipment and personnel from the Juniper Road Fire because they now have control. Resources will be available in case the fire grows again.

Categories: Pender

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