Firefighter crew from Alaska arrives to help with East Tennessee wildfires

TELLICO PLAINS (WATE) – Firefighters from as far away as Alaska are coming to East Tennessee, helping to control the growing wildfires. One group arrived late Wednesday night, about to get their first assignment.

“Up there it’s like snow and ice and down here it’s sunny and warm,” said Emergency Wildland Firefighter Kenneth Richards.

He’s part of a 10 man crew from Fairbanks, Alaska. Besides the weather, there are big differences changing the team’s usual tactics.

Related story: 17 new Tennessee wildfires in the last 24 hours

“I think the ground is different as well. We have a lot of dirt, and we use different tools in Alaska. There are a lot of rocks here,” said Emergency Wildland Firefighter Jaime Tyler.

La’ona Dewilde is part of their crew as well. She remembers the inspiration leading her to become a firefighter.

“When I was 16 some smoke jumpers jumped out of an airplane and saved our camp from burning down. So after that I wanted to be a firefighter and a smoke jumper,” she said.

The team hadn’t received their assignment as of 2 p.m. Thursday.

More coverage: East Tennessee wildfires

“Every fire is different. Some fires you go there as an initial attack. You could be the first person on the fire. You get there with a chainsaw and open up the lines and then people come in behind you, beat the flames out or lay hose and spray the fire out,” said Dewilde.

No matter the job on the mountain, firefighters say it’s a privilege to come out to East Tennessee.

“Last year we had a real busy fire season, and we needed resources. We ran out of state resources and we had people from the lower 48 states come help us, so when you call us for help, we’re happy to come help you guys,” said Tyler.

And perhaps one of these Alaskan firefighters will inspire someone as they’re saving our community, just like it happened for Dewilde, “Sometimes I think it is just in your mind what you say you can and can’t do.”


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