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Keep Fighting: An Account Of Getting News Of Death On The Fire Line

Anna King
Northwest News Network
Firefighter Matthew Blasco of Tacoma has been battling the First Creek Fire near Chelan, Washington.

Three firefighters were killed Wednesday in the wildfire near Twisp, Washington. Another 3,000 are currently on the job around the state.

At the base outside of Chelan, Washington, firefighter Matthew Blasco of Tacoma spoke about hearing the news.

“We got the unfortunate news from our strike team leader,” he said. “He took the opportunity at that moment to take just a quick five minute during-shift meeting. He pulled us together and said, ‘Look this is what happened. We don't know the details but obviously these things can happen. And we just need to be ultra-careful.’”

“I try not to let if affect me while I’m working Because you can lose focus,” Blasco explained. “So you really want to keep your head in the game. And just keep it in the back of your mind, but go forward.”

But Blasco said he had actually already heard about the firefighters’ deaths from his wife.

“I actually found out about it before. Because my wife had texted me, ‘Are you alive? They had three firefighters killed and they haven’t released any names,’” he said. “I fortunately just took a quick second and texted her, ‘I’m alive. I’m on the line. I’ll call you when I can.’ And that eased her mind.”

“It definitely brings your mind back to home and the importance of getting home off the line every night,” Blasco said. “And when the incident is over and it’s all buttoned up and going home and being able to kiss your wife and hold your babies. I’ve got three kids at home as well, so it’s hard.”

And then there are the long hours. Blasco said his crew stayed on the line all night and worked for 27 consecutive hours. Finally they were told to return to the firefighter base outside of Chelan to get some much needed sleep. After that, Blasco’s crew will likely return to the line.

“We’re yet to get our assignment,” he said. “But typically they like to keep us on the same area, especially on night shift so that you know where you’re at and you’ve been able see it and scout it out. So I assume we will be in the First Creek area again.”

Conditions have been incredibly difficult all week, but the winds have been making matters worse.

“It’s always a concern,” Blasco said. “But the biggest concern I would say is whenever we are under red flag warnings and there is already fire on the ground. Homes threatened; that can cause a lot of problems, obviously.”

“You look around at all these houses just up on these hills and you look around in town, and you look down by the water on the First Creek fires where all those houses burned up. And you just think about the potential for death and destruction.”

“From what I understand nobody died in those fires, but it’s such an awful potential for huge life loss," Blasco noted. "And that’s not something you ever want to happen as a firefighter. So getting over here and helping is, is, I think, worth it.”

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.