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Smoke jumper discusses wildfire battles, hot shot crews

By By Jamie Ostroff, Reporter
Published On: Jul 02 2013 05:29:37 PM CDT
Updated On: Jul 02 2013 06:52:23 PM CDT

Smoke jumper discusses wildfire battles, hot shot crews

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho -

The nation is mourning the loss of 19 hot shot firefighters, who died battling the Yarnell Hill fire in Arizona.

Almost 450 firefighters are still working to get the 8,400-acre fire under control.

Michael Wright, a former smoke jumper who lives in Idaho Falls, knows first-hand what it's like to be on the front lines of something so devastating.

From 1999-2005, Wright had a lot of different jobs, all in the name of fighting wildfires.

"I worked my way up from an engine boss to a ground crew, then was promoted to a heli-repeller position," Wright said.

Wright's crew was based in New Meadows, a small city near McCall, but they traveled the entire country.

"We would get called to everywhere from Puerto Rico, to Alaska and everywhere in between," Wright said. "I absolutely enjoyed it. Every minute of it. I miss it every day."

The job came with its fair share of challenges.

"You spend probably the majority of your time making sure you're doing the right things, and the rest of that percentage is watching the people around you," Wright said of the stress of fighting a wildfire.

Wright also worked as a paramedic, and said he saw a lot of injuries and deaths, but he didn't just have to deal with psychological pain.

"It's a job that really takes a toll on your body," Wright said.

Wright had to hang up his uniform for good while he recovered from injuries he sustained on the job.

He's now a neurological consultant, working with doctors and hospitals to help people with injuries. Wright said he started this career because he was inspired by his own injuries.

Still, Wright said he wouldn't trade his experience for anything.

"It's an adventure every single day. Every day is something new. You get to help people," Wright said.

Wright also shared his message to the families of 19 fallen firefighters in Arizona.

"I know what it feels like, and I really feel for (the families)," Wright said. "I hope they are able to, you know, move forward with the memory of those people who passed away, and represent them well."

The Pocatello-based Snake River hot shot crew is in Colorado. They're battling the West Fork Complex fire, which spread to almost 100,000 acres by Tuesday afternoon.

There are 110 hot shot crews in the United States. Members from at least 18 of them are fighting the Yarnell Hill fire. 

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