A small town drew national and even international attention last week when 19 firefighters known as “Hot Shots” died while trying to keep a raging wildfire from destroying lives and homes in Arizona. The men were killed when the winds shifted nearly 180 degrees and cut off their access to the safety zone, a large ranch property.
The elite team from Prescott was known to virtually everyone in that town, and to a Vermont firefighter who served as a Hot Shot for 14 years.
39-year old Jeremy Neslon lives in Rutland now, and works as the Assistant Fire Manager Officer for the Green Mountain National Forest, but for more than a decade he fought fires in Arizona and other parts of the southwestern U.S., as one of the renowned “Hot Shot” crew. He also trained with and got to know many of the young men who died last week while trying to save others.
Nelson says Vermont firefighters are mourning the loss of the 19 men, while simultaneously preparing to head into danger if needed.
“We do have a chance of having a crew get sent out there.,” says Nelson.
Vermont crews have helped out with wildfires in other states in the past. He says crews in Vermont are following weather patterns closely and are ready to travel if help is needed.
“We also want to look at what’s happening nationally with fire, so we can maybe try to anticipate where the need is going to be to help support the fires out west,” Nelson says.
Nelson remembers forming bonds with many of the young men very quickly.
“You build these interpersonal relationships because of the sheer fact of the danger of what we do,” he says.
Nelson says it’s been difficult for him to think about how young many of the Hotshots were
“I just think of the families they either left behind or could have had. It’s just a real sad moment for the Forest Service.”