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Fire Season Winding Down For Washington's Hotshots

Flickr Photo/US Department of Agriculture (CC-BY-NC-ND)

It's been a tough fire season for the elite group of firefighters known as hotshots; and not because of the fires.

Hotshots are used to the hard work. They work 14 days in a row, then get three days off, then repeat the cycle over and over again until winter finally puts the nation's fires to bed. They're deployed throughout the West, never knowing where they'll be sent until the last minute. They work with their hands, using chainsaws and shovels. Sometimes, they have to work through grief, as they did this summer when a fire near Phoenix, Arizona, swallowed 19 hotshots in one gulp.

That's far away from Washington state — but different hotshot crews work together, often finding themselves battling a fire together in California, Idaho or wherever called. A tragedy like that touches all hotshots.

Hotshot Kurt Ranta says his crew, the Baker River Hotshots based in Concrete, Wash., took the loss hard. KUOW's David Hyde asked him how he goes back to work after a loss like that.

"You find comfort in doing something that you know how to do well," said Ranta. "In a way, it invigorated me to do my job well."

Produced by Joshua McNichols.

Year started with KUOW: 2004