Volunteers from Tennessee head west to help fight wildfires

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Large wildfires are still burning in western states that have been stricken by drought. Now, crews from other states, including Tennessee, are heading west with additional resources.

There are more than 30,000 people fighting the western wildfires, but more help is needed as flames continue to flare up. One hundred trained firefighters from Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia and North Carolina were at McGhee Tyson Airport Monday to fly out west. They are scheduled to arrive in Utah Monday night. From there, they will travel wherever they are needed most.

“I want to help and I also want to learn. Western fires are much different than the fires here in the Southeast,” said Robert Potter, a firefighter with Tennessee’s Division of Forestry.

Freddie Kelley with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency received specialized training to fight the fires. He says he felt it was important to lend a helping a hand.

“It would be like if it was in your community – home loss, property loss – and if you can help out, help out where you can,” he said.

Phillip Lewis with the U.S. Forestry Service is one of 20 volunteers going from Tennessee and says there is great anticipation before the work starts.

“There’s always nerves because it is a dangerous environment and unexpected things can always happen,” said Lewis.

The volunteers say the drought, winds and low humidity have made this wildfire season more severe. They expect to be busy, putting out hot spots or digging trenches around the fire to stop the flames. Along with the nerves they say there is a sense of excitement.

“Especially if you drive up on a fire that has a big column of smoke coming over it, you know it’s got some good active flames and it’s exhilarating,” said Lewis.

This group of 100 volunteers expects to be out west for at least two weeks, but they won’t know which fire they are fighting until they get to Utah.

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