Wildfires continue to rage across the west coast, spreading smoke over neighboring states with haze reaching as far as North Dakota.
More than 7-million acres have already burned in 2020 and over 3-million are currently consumed by fire.
I took a video call with a wildland firefighter from Driscoll who’s been fighting western U.S. fires for over a decade now.
He tells us those 3-million active acres reported by the National Interagency Fire Center are just on government-managed lands. It doesn’t begin to account for private property lost.
“What we’re seeing is unprecedented wilderness burning, and there’s really no place to put these things in check in the wilderness,” said Wildland Firefighter Dustin Peyer with Idaho Trailblazers LLC.
“It’s catastrophic. So basically, we have to get miles ahead of these things because when they blow out of the wilderness, they go 20, 40, sometimes 100,000 acres in one shift.”
Peyer has been away from North Dakota for about 36 days, starting out on the Cameron Peak fire in Colorado, and now, he’s south of Salt Lake City, Utah. But, he says it gets harder and harder to keep track of the days.
“They try to get you days off after 14, but it doesn’t always work out that way. And you know, just kind of runs together and you just take things day-by-day and shift-by-shift. And if we all get off of the line safely with our fingers and toes, then that’s a good day,” he explained.
Peyer has been fighting fires since 2007, but it’s a little different than working for your local fire department. He is called up and flown out across the country specifically to combat wildfires, often on very short notice.
“You’re basically attached to your phone at the hip and I keep my bags ready year-round. And just, get the call and kiss the family goodbye and that’s all she wrote. We’re off to the races,” he shared.
This is how Peyer has spent his summers and some parts of the Fall for more than a decade. He says he’s worked several record-breaking years.
“The 10 hottest, driest, most acres burned has been in the last decade, and you know, my career spans 14 years and it’s been through the most intense fire seasons since the 1930s,” he said.
Peyer says his wife and two kids at home are his biggest supporters. He’s had to miss his daughter’s birthday and his anniversary.
“If you want to do this job, you have to adjust your life for the job, because the fire doesn’t care. The fire doesn’t care about your social media drama; the fire doesn’t care about what’s going on back home,” he explained.
“The fire just wants to consume fuel, and the ability to focus on the job is basically a requirement.”
It’s something that takes a level of passion and dedication that Peyer holds close.
He says he thinks what’s going on now is only the beginning of the 2020 fire season. He expects 10 to 15-million acres will burn this year, and again, that’s not counting people’s homes and businesses lost in the flames.