The Ironwood Hotshots spent last Friday in Northwest Tucson prepping their gear before heading to the Monument fire, which is burning in southern Arizona in the Coronado National Forest.
Greg Smith, the superintendent for the Hotshots, said the group had just come from working a fire near Carlsbad, NM, near the caverns. Before that, they were working on the Murphy Fire near Rio Rico.
“We are making sure our gear is ready to go,” Smith said. “We have to touch up on a few things, just so we are available to go on a moment’s notice.”
The Hotshots, who are part of the Wildland Fire Division of the Northwest Fire District, spent Friday afternoon sharpening tools, replacing chains on chainsaws and tending to regular maintenance on their vehicles. The crew of about 20 activates each year near the end of March. They spend the next few weeks preparing for the fire season and are usually dispatched by mid-April.
This is the first year Leilani Robinson is working on the team. While she admits she is a novice when it comes to seeing what fires can do, she learned from experienced firefighters while battling blazes in Texas that what she was seeing was unique.
“They called everyone to the same area because the fire activity was so extreme,” Robinson said. “We were watching from, I don’t know how many miles away, but there was a forest of junipers and all of them were torching and the fire was moving really quickly.”
Usually junipers don’t ignite like that unless the temperature is extremely hot or the plants are really dry, she said.
This is Emerson Hammerslag’s second year with the Hotshots.
“It is definitely super active,” Hammerslag said. “There are a lot more fires, especially down south, than last year. It really rained so we got a good grass crop in the springtime, and now it is just super hot and dry.”
The crews usually work 12 to 16 hours each day for about two weeks, and then take the mandatory two or three days off.