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Arizona deaths hit close to home for NC firefighters

Posted July 1, 2013

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— Many North Carolina Forest Service firefighters head out West every year to help put out wildfires, so the deaths Sunday of 19 members of an elite firefighting unit in an Arizona fire gave them pause.

"It makes us all step back and think and take a breath," John Mewborn said Monday.

A forest ranger based in Fayetteville, Mewborn has fought fires from peat bogs in North Carolina to canyons in the Southwest. He last fought a western wildfire in Washington state in 2009.

"It can be very erratic, very unpredictable," he said.

In the flatland South, he said, crews build fire breaks with bulldozers to help contain wildfires. Most places out West are too mountainous for that, so they build breaks by hand with shovels.

"You're taking a lick, taking a step, and everybody behind you is basically doing the same," he said.

Mewborn recalled a lightning-sparked June 2011 fire in Cumberland County that destroyed hundreds of acres of forest and three houses. Two thunderstorms formed on either side of that fire, and wind direction changed suddenly, he said.

N.C. Forest Service logo NC firefighters mourn brethren killed in Arizona

"We can have, right here in North Carolina, right in this district, the same kind of conditions they're dealing with in Arizona," he said.

The deaths of the 19 Hotshot firefighters, who are trained and work long hours in extreme conditions, remind him how perilous his line of work can be.

"They're not there because they have to be. They're there because they wanted to be, which makes the sacrifice they made even more special," he said. "We try to take the information that comes from it and learn from it so we can take care of ourselves."

North Carolina has one Hotshot fire crew, which is based in Asheville.

13 Comments

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  • Got Peart Jul 2, 2:00 p.m.

    gotcha. well - my advice is pretty simple - if you don't care to read about it - don't.

    But to your point - you see LEO from around the state come together when one of theirs fall. It's a fraternity of sorts. And it's an angle that I guess WRAL felt may be worth reporting on. It's your choice to read or skip to the next story.

    Just like I choose not to read all the reports on the Zimmerman case.

  • mckangst Jul 2, 1:51 p.m.

    I didn't say only firefighters should be allowed to mourn, I was addressing the stance that other comments, not my own, had taken here.
    My original stance is that this is not local news. Everyone feels the pain of a tragedy like this, and it's already been well covered in national news. We don't need local stories telling us that local firefighters feel more than everyone else who risks their life for a paycheck.

  • Got Peart Jul 2, 1:29 p.m.

    this is beyond local news. This is national news as it is the worst tragedy for wildland fire since 1933! mckangst - you are out of your mind to think that the only people that can mourn over this are firefighters. I'm no firefighter - yet I grieve for them, thier families, colleagues, friends, and townspeople. This sadly is a HUGE story!

  • Caryoke Jul 2, 12:58 p.m.

    Please keep them in your prayers

  • mckangst Jul 2, 12:20 p.m.

    I understand about industry connections. My stance is that everyone who has put their life at risk can relate to some extent. Your stance seems to be that only firefighters can really relate. That highlights my original question, is this mainstream local news if non-firefighters are excluded from being able to mourn? It would then be best published to a firefighter only news resource.

  • Got Peart Jul 2, 11:16 a.m.

    mckangst - You would be surprised by the connection amongst these crews. State crews head all over the country to help with these fires. Members of US Forest Service that help manage these incidents are spread all over the country, and I know of 2 that are in the Triangle.

    This is a horrible tragedy and just goes to show that mother nature is not one to mess with.

  • LovemyPirates Jul 2, 9:42 a.m.

    mckangst - can you not recognize that there is a different level of connection between & within some groups i.e. firefighters than between others? Teachers identify with other teachers; salespeople identify with other salespersons; bankers identify with other bankers; musicians identify with other musicians; etc. This doesn't mean that one one else can identify with these groups, it means that within like groups, there is a different connection.

  • North Carolina Cutie Jul 2, 8:58 a.m.

    My prayers go out to all envolved and touched by this heart fealt accident.

  • duster 340 Jul 2, 8:41 a.m.

    Very sad story! Praying for all!

  • BubbaDuke Jul 2, 8:30 a.m.

    Very heartbreaking. Prayers for the families of the fallen.

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