This summer has been among the worst in history for forest fires in the west with over 100 wildfires having erupted and nearly 29,000 firefighters deployed to help control them in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana. Among the thousands of brave souls sent to fight ferocious flames were two from Tipp City. Cody Conley and Garrison Lupton.
Both Conley and Lupton are 2010 graduates of Tippecanoe High School and they each attended Hocking College to pursue careers in the Wildlife.
Conley works for the Ohio Division of Forestry as the assistant director and recently returned from his second stint of fourteen days in California this summer. He traveled to Hayfork, CA and to Gasquet, CA. Conley was faced with fires that stretched as long as 68,000 acres.
Despite the severely dangerous conditions, Conley felt as if he was at little risk most of the time. “We had lots of really good leaders who keep us safe. It can get really intense and chaotic, but the leaders keep it all under control,” he said.
Lupton works for the Forest Service and went to Idaho twice this summer, with his last stint from May until last week. He battled fires that were spread over 6,400 acres and with flames up to 200 feet high. With experience Lupton has learned act cautiously and realize that the fire won’t be extinguished immediately. “It’s always a rush, and you want to run and something right away, but you have to take your time and plan out your actions,” he said.
While on location, the firefighters work 16 hour days and sleep in tents. They normally eat the military bagged food and find a place to shower every three days. The temperature is usually between 80 and 100 degrees, with the flames adding even more additional heat. “The hardest part is fatigue, not only from the physical exhaustion but also sleep deprivation,” said Lupton.
In addition to putting out fires, the firefighters also do a lot of clean-up, prevent the fires from being able to grow and helps the area residents stay safe.
Extra precautions are taken to protect the nearby homes. Paths are also made in the forest, by cutting down trees and other debris to make room to work.
A key to staying safe is communication, which Conley says can be difficult to maintain, but is very important. “The hardest part is making sure that everyone is communicating. You have to know what everyone and the fire is doing at all times in order to stay safe,” he said.
Due to the weather change and some precipitation in the areas, neither Conley nor Lupton expect to have to go back this year, but are always ready to fulfill their duty when called Their laborious efforts are all made worth it, by the appreciation from the residents in the area. “It feels really good when you go into town and the people are thankful for what we do,” said Lupton.
The forest fires may be extinguished but the heroism of Conley, Lupton and everyone else that faced the fiery flames will never be put out.