Images of the Silver Fire - New Mexico Veteran Wildland Firefighter Pilot Program - Mimbres River at Cooney - Black Range of the Gila National Forest

Earlier this year, New Mexico Governor Martinez launched a program for New Mexico Veterans seeking training and employment in wildland firefighting.After several very active fire seasons in recent years, the Veteran Fire Crew Pilot Program was created to address the need for more wildland firefighters in the state.

 "New Mexico's veterans have made remarkable contributions to our state and our country. We owe it to them to help them find employment when they return to civilian life.- Governor Susana Martinez 

The pilot program currently provides 40 seasonal wildland firefighter positions with wages starting at 17.00 per hour and benefits. The new Military Veteran Wildland Firefighter Pilot Program crew will join the 200-plus State Forestry wildland firefighters presently assigned to protect state, private and federal lands from wildfire. In only a few months after the pilot program crew's creation, the 40-person crew has worked major fires in the Santa Fe National Forest and Gila National Forest. The veteran wildland firefighter program will be a great resource as we prepare for what could be a very active fire season. 

"I salute all the veterans who are taking part in this program and thank them for their continued service to the people of New Mexico." - Governor Susana Martinez
A very special thanks to Crew Boss Michael Gonzales and the New Mexico Veteran Wildland Firefighter Pilot Program crew for allowing me the privilege to photograph them as they cut firelines ahead of the Silver Fire.


Images of the Silver Fire - Salmon Heli-Rappellers - Black Range of the Gila National Forest

Heli-rappelling is a fast and efficient way of getting resources to fires in remote areas. Firefighters rappel from hovering helicopters up to 250 feet above the ground. Typical fires are lightning caused, generally small in size and require 2-4 heli-rappellers to suppress. Rappellers remain on the fire until it is declared out or relieved by other fire suppression personnel or resources. At the end of the fire, rappellers will pack their gear, weighing 80-125 pounds to the nearest trailhead. Heli-rappellers are a self-contained resource with the ability to remain on a wildland fire for 36 hours without a resupply. Rappelling is only one aspect of the job. In addition to initial attack duties, the crew fills overhead line assignments, as well as performs traditional helitack duties on helibases. - via USDA


End of Day at Glenwood - Granite Mountain Hotshots

While going through the NMBR wildland photo archives last night, I came across this image. It’s of a member of the Granite Mountain Hotshots taken last spring in Glenwood, NM. I was covering the Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire and had driven into the small mountain town for fuel and supplies. The Granite Mountain Hotshots crew pulled into the filling station after finishing a 16-hour shift on the fire. After unloading, some went in the station, some wandered off with their phones in hand, while the rest of the crew gathered around a picnic table. The brotherhood was immediately apparent as the crew joked around and recounted the day’s events. Although the Glenwood "end of day" scene is like many others I’ve witnessed before—exhausted faces, soot stained Nomex and un-faded camaraderie—it will not be forgotten. The Granite Mountain Hotshots, who made the ultimate sacrifice in their service, passed on doing what they love. 

Excerpt from The Firefighter's Prayer - "And if, according to my fate, I am to lose my life/Please bless with your protecting hand my children and my wife” 

Photo: Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crewmember Robert Caldwell | Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire (2012) | Glenwood, NM | ©JakeQuiñones/NMBR


19 Wildland Firefighters perish while battling Arizona’s Yarnell Hill Fire

Prescott National Forest - High winds and triple digit temperatures blew the Yarnell Hill Fire out of control Sunday, overtaking and killing 19 wildland firefighters. The blaze grew over 1,000 acres within an hour. 

The Granite Mountain Hotshots crew was forced to deploy their fire shelters when they became trapped by fire on a ridge; they were outpaced by the fire on their retreat to nearby safe zone. A fire shelter is a safety device of last resort used by wildland firefighters when trapped by wildfires. It is designed to reflect radiant heat and trap breathable air inside in an attempt to save the firefighter's life. According to Arizona State Forestry spokesman Art Morrison, the firefighters attempted to deploy their fire shelters, but either did not have enough time, or the fire was too intense. Only one crew member survived; he was moving the unit's truck at the time. 

Before the Yarnell Hill Fire, the Granite Mountain Hotshots crew had fought multiple wildfires across New Mexico and Arizona. The 20-member Hotshots crews are considered elite among wildland firefighters, due to their extensive training, high physical fitness requirements, and ability to complete dangerous assignments. Hotshots are specifically trained and equipped to work in remote areas for days on end with little or no support. From the Hotshots website: “We are routinely exposed to extreme environmental conditions, long work hours, long travel hours and the most demanding of fireline tasks. Comforts such as beds, showers and hot meals are not always common.” 

During the spring of 2012, photojournalist Jakob Schiller, accompanied members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots as they battled the Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire in New Mexico’s Gila National Forest. Schiller’s raw and vivid imagery of the Hotshots crew can be seen in his story Photos: On the Ground at the Start of Fire Season Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo said the firefighters that perished also worked for the city’s fire department. "We're devastated," Fraijo said late Sunday. "We just lost 19 of the finest people you'll ever meet." 

Monday evening, the city of Prescott released the names of the firefighters who died. They are: 

Andrew Ashcraft, 29 | Kevin Woyjeck, 21 | Anthony Rose, 23 | Eric Marsh, 43 | Christopher MacKenzie, 30 | Robert Caldwell, 23 | Clayton Whitted , 28 | Scott Norris, 28 | Dustin Deford, 24 | Sean Misner, 26 | Garret Zuppiger, 27 | Travis Carter, 31 | Grant McKee, 21 | Travis Turbyfill, 27 | Jesse Steed, 36 | Wade Parker, 22 | Joe Thurston, 32 | William Warneke, 25 | John Percin, 24 

Photo: NMBR wildland photography archive image ©JakeQuiñones/NMBR