DURANGO — A team of wildland firefighters is headed from the Durango area to the rugged terrain of Alaska this year because of their reputation as some of the best
in the West.
"Durango people started going up, and they all did a good job — everyone was impressed — and if you got a recommendation from a Durango guy, it was a lot easier to get the job," said Eric Elliott, who at 21 made his first trek to Fairbanks in 2009 to work with the North Star Fire Crew in Alaska.
Firefighters from southwestern Colorado said their mountain terrain and healthy lifestyle produces good firefighters.
"It's just kind of the Durango culture. Since we were kids, almost everyone I knew was always hiking around, camping and basically firefighting without the fire. We grew up at a high elevation and are pretty active, so it wasn't a far jump," Elliott told the Durango Herald.
Bureau of Land Management air tactical supervisor Charlie Brown said there is a network of Durango firefighters who join Alaska fire crews each summer, and they have to prove themselves every time they prepare to head north.
Smokejumpers and hotshot crews can travel anywhere in the U.S., but Alaska crews have higher standards and have a strong firefighting background. Hotshot crews have more than 20 firefighters, and the physical training is tough, even for previous team members.
"It entails stuff like carrying 90 pounds up a ski area, 10-mile runs, and if you can't hang, they cut you," said Gavin Stroud, 22. He helped fight the North Star fire last summer, when more than 5 million acres of Alaska wilderness burned.
"We've fought in the Lower 48, and it's nothing like Alaska," Stroud said.