More than 915 firefighters from around the nation joined the fire fight in Fourmile Canyon last week, with a good handful of them volunteer firefighters. In the first few days of the fire, volunteers from 35 regional fire districts jumped in, trying to save homes and contain the fire.
A majority of the firefighters were camping out in the canyon during off times to get rest, eat and sleep, while another group created a tent city at Boulder Reservoir. Boulder County officials made sure firefighters were fed, were well-rested and had everything they needed for the daily shifts in the burn zone. But just like full-time firefighters, the volunteers wanted in on the action too.
“I wanted to be part of the solution, not the problem,” says Anne, who declined to give her last name and who joined the Left Hand Canyon Fire Protection District in 2000. “It allows me to give back to my community. I’m not a person who likes to feel helpless, so I wanted to be able to give back and not be in the way.”
Anne says she was motivated to volunteer after growing up in Boulder County and experiencing wildfires, including the Olde Stage fire in 1990. That fire destroyed more than 10 homes.
“I was younger watching that from afar, seeing all the smoke,” she says. “I was at a friend’s house who had horses that were up in and near that area, and seeing how upset it made her, I just felt helpless; I couldn’t help her in any way.”
Ben, another volunteer firefighter from the Left Hand Canyon Fire Protection District who declined to provide his last name, was in the midst of the Fourmile Canyon fire battle since day one. And while the area he was working wasn’t as bad as some others, he says he relies on his training to stay alert just in case things turn for the worse.
“That’s always on your mind,” Ben says about the unpredictability of a wildfire. “You can never get complacent. I’ve been up there every night, doing night operations, and so far, the greatest challenge is staying awake, but that’s why you sleep during the day.”
Now that the fire is 100 percent contained and residents are heading back to their neighborhoods, volunteers are still patrolling the areas. A lot of the rubble could still be hot, and there still could be embers that are lit underneath destroyed structures.
“The area I was working had a dirty burn,” Anne says. “It was spotty with islands of unburned fuel, which has a potential for re-burning. So we were on patrol to make sure any potential heat from the fire is not impacting structures.”
Even if the fire’s gone, a firefighter’s job is never done.