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July 09, 2013 7:58 am

A tragic reminder of the courage of firefighters

Written by Tessa Schweigert

Our nation was recently reminded of the incredible risks firefighters take when 19 men lost their lives fighting a wildfire in Arizona.

The Hotshot crew faced a fierce blaze in extreme heat, brutal winds and tinderbox conditions. As sons, brothers, husbands and fathers, the firefighters leave behind family and friends mourning such a devastating loss.

Cassidy Steed, brother of fallen firefighter Jesse Steed, said his brother “always put his life on the line for people who he knew he would never meet.”

The statement defines the sacrifice of Steed, his fellow firefighters and so many others.

We’re reminded of 15 firefighters who died on the North Fork of the Shoshone, fighting the Blackwater Fire in August 1937. Those men also encountered fierce winds, engulfing flames and an inescapable blaze.

The Shoshone National Forest marked the 75th anniversary of that tragedy last year, and a memorial on the North Fork commemorates the firemen’s sacrifice.

A memorial service for the 19 firefighters is planned today (Tuesday) in Arizona. We know that their sacrifice will be remembered not just now, but for generations to come, just as it is for those who died on the North Fork.

It’s also important to recognize the inherent risks and danger firefighters will continue to face in coming weeks as temperatures heat up and wildlands dry out.

Dry conditions throughout the West are resulting in more erratic and unpredictable fires, Wyoming State Forester Bill Crapser told The Associated Press. Wyoming and other Western states endured an extremely destructive fire season last year. More than 500,000 acres burned in Wyoming.

“These hot days with the wind that we’ve had have really started drying things out,” Crapser said. “The trend looks like it’s going to continue.”

We’re glad to see fire crews re-examining their safety strategies after the tragedy in Arizona. However, we also know that even with the best training, years of experience and safety guidelines in place, firefighters still risk their lives each day.

Remember those fallen firefighters who gave their lives  to protect people they never met and left behind loved ones. Thank those firemen who fight wildfires or serve on our local Powell Volunteer Fire Department.

The risks of fires in the West will never go away. Thankfully, neither will the dedication of firefighters.

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