20 South Dakota firefighters return home safely from Arizona - KOTA Territory News

20 South Dakota firefighters return home safely from Arizona


The ripple effect from the an out of control wildfire in Arizona that took the lives of 19 elite firefighters is still being felt.

For the entire firefighting community it's a reality check.     

20 firefighters from the South Dakota Wildland Fire's Black Hat Hand crew are home safely after two weeks in the scorching temperatures of Arizona.

While they weren't on the Yarnell Fire, they battled similar conditions, knowing now more than ever, the danger that comes with the job.

"That's my first time in Arizona, said Black Hats Hand Crew firefighter, Zach Ruhurek. "So there was an entirely new fuel type for me at least." 

"You're looking at chaparral, juniper, stuff like that," said Black Hats Hand Crew firefighter Eric Boe. "A lot more of your flashy fuels that can erupt on you at any point in time. I wouldn't want to be in if it took off. You're looking at flame heights of 30 feet running through that stuff." 

19 firefighters from the Granite Mountain Hotshots Crew were forced in that situation on Sunday, and all 19 of them died in a last ditch effort to save themselves.  

"It's definitely hard to see any firefighters," said Handcrew Program Supervisor, Chris Blair. "The loss, so definitely heartfelt condolences to family and friends of all the firefighters." 

Two of the firefighters had KOTA Territory connections, 24- year- old Dustin Deford from Ekalaka, Montana, and 21-year-old Kevin Woyjeck of Arizona, who was part of a crew removing beetle trees in Custer State Park last summer.

"He was an outstanding citizen," said Blair. Very well liked, very well respected, a very ambitious individual." 

Traits Blair uses to describe all of his crew members, who now, more than ever before know a fear that's very real.

"The first thing that you think of is the job that you're doing is dangerous and there is that potential of death," said Boe. "And you know it makes you think of your loved ones." 

Investigators are trying to figure out whether human error played a role in the tragedy.

Meantime, funeral and memorial service arrangements are still pending.

The Rapid City Fire Department recommends the Wildland Firefighter Foundation. https://www.wffoundation.org/Donation.asp.

This is the same group that stepped in two years ago when Trampus Haskvitz died while fighting the Coal Canyon Fire near Edgemont. 


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