DENVER — A firefighter who spent two weeks fighting the Pine Gulch Fire has an ask for the state: be respectful of fire bans, pay attention to the weather and how it could influence fires and be responsible.
South Metro Firefighter Dustin Searle just returned home to the Denver area after battling the fire north of Grand Junction. We spoke to him about his experience:
How long were you at the Pine Gulch Fire?
Searle said he was on standby to deploy to the wildfires. He was at home when he was told he would be heading to the Pine Gulch Fire in August and was ready to go within hours.
He said goodbye to his wife and two young kids for two weeks.
"My kiddos told me to be safe, we love you," he said.
Searle said his wife has been by his side for this 18-year career as a firefighter and has been his rock throughout the years.
After spending two weeks on the frontlines of the Pine Gulch Fire, he came back home in time to surprise his kid and pick him up from his first day of kindergarten.
The family has a tradition every time Searle returns from a fire. They get pizza, watch a movie and cuddle.
What did you see?
On the way to the front lines, Searle said this incident was described to him as "extreme fire behavior."
Once he got there, he said the fire lived up to those words.
"What I saw numerous times, was a fire coming down a hill, against the wind making an aggressive push moving faster than truly you could walk or at a jogging pace," he said.
Searle said every fire technique he knew was being used to try and contain the fire but the conditions kept defeating them.
"Day after day we were defeated," he said. "We would trying something, one or two plans and would work 16-hour days and pass it along to the night shift. It seemed without fail Mother Nature overcame everything we did."
What were the challenges and what was the turning point?
The biggest challenges where the heat, topography, wind and lack of humidity.
Searle said once the temperatures cooled down a bit and humidity went up, it gave firefighters a chance to gain ground on containment.
Searle said as welcome as the snow this week is, it's going to take more than one round of precipitation.
PHOTOS: Pine Gulch Fire in western Colorado
What do you hope people take away from hearing your experience?
Searle said there is a lot of pride in being a part of the solution.
Wednesday afternoon, the Pine Gulch fire was 95% contained, though there are multiple fires burning throughout Colorado.
"There is also a sorrow realizing the state we loved has some severe devastation. It's going to take time to re-coop, and regrow," Searle said.
He is asking people to respect the fire bans and play their part in helping protect the state from wildfires.
"What I really want people to keep in mind is being respectful," said Searle. "And being responsible and paying attention to fire bans, and paying attention to weather that maybe produce large fires if small fires were to start. That's really what I want to pass on to people in Colorado. Most people live here because they love being outdoors. We really don't want to burn it all down so we don't get to enjoy it."
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