Massachusetts Firefighters Head West to Fight Wildfires

Nearly two dozen Massachusetts firefighters were deployed by the state's Department of Conservation and Recreation to help battle raging wildfires out West

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Firefighters from the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation are heading to Montana to help firefighters who are battling wildfires there.

While Massachusetts has sent wildland fire crews to help with wildfires in other regions of the country in the past, this mission is no less challenging.

Wildfires across the West have strained resources and threatened thousands of homes with destruction.

More than 100 large wildfires raging in a dozen western states are stretching resources to the limit -- while threatening to burn thousands of homes -- or anything in their path, thanks to drought and hot, bone-dry weather.

The Dixie Fire that sparked July 13th has become the 2nd largest wildfire in California’s history.

Firefighters have been battling the largest among them, the month-old Dixie Fire, which is currently threatening the small lumber town of Westwood, California. The wildfire has destroyed more than 1,000 homes, businesses and other structures.

An air quality alert covering seven Montana counties warns of extremely high levels of pollution from smoke.

The fires near Lame Deer, Montana, have burned 275 square miles this week, so far sparing homes but causing extensive damage to pasture lands that ranchers depend on to feed their cows and horses.

Federal firefighters need all the help they can get. The roughly 21,000 working on the ground is more than double the number this time a year ago.

With federal firefighters in desperate need of assistance, firefighters from Massachusetts are answering the call.

“My father was a wildland firefighter," said Brandon Johnson. "Just to continue that legacy is an honor.”

Smoke, haze and dust from the West Coast brought an air quality alert to Massachusetts, where people have reported having difficulty breathing. The TEN looks at how and why it's happening and how harmful it could be to some people.

Johnson is one of nearly two dozen Massachusetts firefighters deployed by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation to help battle raging wildfires out West. This is his fourth deployment as part of the wildland fire crew.

“We're able to bring back to the state what we learn out there," said Johnson. "With the weather and typography and everything that's going on.”

Meeting at Hopkinton State Park to mobilize before their send-off, Dave Celino, chief fire warden of the DCR , said they’ve got a daunting job ahead of them.

“There are a total of 45 active fires burning in that Northern Rockies area for a total of 7,000 acres uncontained and a very active and volatile situation," said Celino.

The local firefighters will make their way to the Northern Rockies Saturday - by car - where they’ll be stationed for about two weeks. The area encompasses Montana, Northern Idaho and North Dakota, according to Celino.

Crew Boss Roy Leoard said they'll have their work cut out for them.

"Digging or constructing hand line. Or we could be doing structure protection on a building," said Leoard. "We could be prepping for a burnout situation."

Whatever the mission, this crew says they ready.

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