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Hotshot crews look to avoid burnout while containing historic burns

Desert Hills Brush Fire
Arizona wildfires
Posted at 6:01 PM, Jul 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-13 21:14:10-04

Arizona is experiencing a historic year for wildfires.

As of July 7, 479,906 acres have burned in our state due to wildfires.

That's more than the next four states combined, according to The National Interagency Fire Center.

For context, that acreage would blanket much of the Valley.

All the flames and scorched earth has kept firefighters and hotshot crews running ragged.

For the past 25 years, Patrick Moore has spent roughly six months every year sleeping under the stars and near the smoke.

"Setting up a tent, unless there's weather like we got coming on, it just steals sleep," said Moore, who leads a team of 20 men and women.

In the Mesa Interagency HotShot Crew, rest is at a premium.

"You go to an incident, get your 14 days in, and then go home and you have a day to kind of gather yourself a day to do laundry, and then you're back out."

Back out to countless wildfires torching our state this year.

"What fires have you worked in Arizona this year?" asked ABC15's Zach Crenshaw.

"Let's see - Jack, Sycamore Canyon, Moscow Pinnacle. Raphael. Some smaller fires that I can't remember," said Moore.

"Does it feel like you're playing whack a mole?" asked ABC15's Zach Crenshaw."Oh, absolutely," said Moore. "Every time we turn around, it's another start somewhere that we're running to."

It is draining physically for the men and women who carry 40-50 pounds of gear.

"There's always running chainsaws, swinging tools, carrying brush carrying drip torches," said Moore. "If it's flat ground, they don't really need us. So it's always in pretty tough country."

"Can you remember the last time you felt the 100%?" asked Crenshaw.

"Probably about 1995," said Moore, chuckling.

The emotional toll is significant too, as the hotshots leave their families behind.

"My wife loves telling me how much she handles when I'm not home," said Moore.

"Do you worry about burnout and fatigue?" asked Crenshaw.

"Absolutely...Until you get days off, you're trapped with the same 20 people that you're working with. So you aren't getting that daily break at all."

Right now, the crew is north of the Valley on the Ocotillo and Bear fires.

"We're hoping the rain develops today," said Moore.

Even if the monsoon helps quelch the Arizona fires, Moore says his team of 21 will head to another part of the country, "likely California or Montana," where the flames rage on.

"I think there's also a sense of service," said Moore. "You're helping your communities, helping the environment, helping the forest system, helping our partners in counties and cities. You can have a pretty big impact."