Former Quad Citian, Hot Shot Talks About Job - News and Weather For The Quad Cities -

Former Quad Citian, Hot Shot Talks About Job

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The wildfires still burning in Arizona are being watched by a former Quad Citian, who spent nearly a decade battling flames as a Hot Shot Firefighter and Smoke Jumper.

"I've definitely walked through old subdivisions that were moonscapes," Mike Nelson says. "They were just torched. There was nothing left but maybe a chimney stack." Nelson spent nearly nine years fighting wildfires. He graduated from Davenport Central in 1996, then moved to Montana to go to college, where he was hooked. "I got to go places. I got to be in the mountains in the West that few people get to experience, or let alone get paid to be there. There were some places that were really beautiful. But then you also see some of the scorched earth where fire had run through and burned everything up."

Nelson saw them first as a Hot Shot Firefighter, hiking into remote areas as part of a team specially trained in wildfire suppression. "You pack in a chainsaw and gas and all your food and water for, you typically want to have enough that you could last two days if you had to," he tells us. But soon, he became a Smoke Jumper, parachuting in with his pack, trying to knock down fires before they spread.

He says western wildfires happen all the time, just not fires like this one.  "It's kind of hit home," Nelson says. "Because when I was on the crew, we had moments where it was like, I gotta get out of here. You can't control when the fire picks up and creates its own weather and its own wind, and decides to do what it's gonna do. There's nothing you can do about it." Something Nelson says he knew, and watched for.

But to do the job, Hotshots have to put the risk in the back of their minds, hope there will be an escape route if they need one, and focus on their goal of putting out the fire. "Just to have the satisfaction that we just saved this whole neighborhood and never saw people, homeowners or whatever, but they had no idea that we were there, what we did, which is satisfying, but anonymous as well, which I enjoy." He says he was just doing the job, one that he loved.

Mike Nelson retired from it a few years ago. He moved to Alaska with his family.  He tells us he doesn't want to be chasing fires across the country while his wife and kids wait at home.