Cortland (WSYR-TV) - They’ve already destroyed thousands of acres and many properties, but there’s still at least a few more weeks left in the Western wildfire season.
A few Central New Yorkers are just returning from helping the effort to fight the massive blazes.
Anyone who watches the news on television has seen the pictures: fires sweeping across acres of forest, burning everything in their path.
Don Nelson was one of a few local firefighters who found themselves staring into the teeth of a Montana wildfire for two weeks.
"Nobody's pulling us into a situation intentionally where we're going to be in harms way, however the danger is always there,” he said.
Nelson and his crew were working to contain the Lolo Creek wildfires just outside Missoula, Montana, hiking miles in to get to their locations.
He says they did everything from put out hotspots to dig fire lines.
He says it wasn’t uncommon to have 16-hour days – and they even spent some nights out in the forest.
“Number one you've got the physical exertion with regards to hydration, the terrain, we were on extremely steep terrain. We were in areas where there may be on-going fire below us where we had to pay attention and they'd come in and just put it out with a helicopter,” Nelson said.
While Central New Yorkers are used to green and moist conditions, Nelson says it’s completely different in Montana where it’s very dry right now.
Humidity is as low as 10 percent in many cases, which makes it perfect for wildfires.
While Nelson said that much of fighting wildfires is containing them, he says part of it is protecting property.
“That's kind of gratifying, we were able to help put some people at ease maybe,” Nelson said.
Nelson said it takes coordination and communication to deal with these ever-changing situations – it’s something he credits New York State forest rangers with.
Those Rangers were heading up his team as they wrestled with the untamed fires.
DEC Forest Ranger Bill Giraud of Cortland County and volunteer Kraig Senter of Cayuga County were also part of the team.