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A California Hotshot photographs his life fighting wildfires



It is Fire Prevention Week in Whistler, and while house and wildfires are not top of mind for most people on a daily basis, there is no escaping that fires can wreak life-changing havoc.

It is a chilling fact that on average every week eight Canadians die from fire — most deaths are repreventable and caused by careless behaviour.

"This year's theme underscores the importance of making Canadians aware of the simple preventative measures they can take to prevent disaster from occurring to them," said Whistler Fire Chief Rob Whitton.

"It is the responsibility of every Canadian to educate themselves on the simple fire prevention measures they can take.

"Statistics reveal that most fires are caused by carless behaviour. An ounce of prevention in this case shall save lives, homes and everything that we hold dear."

On the wildfire front B.C. had a surprisingly average summer despite the long, hot season.

The Wildfire Management Branch responded to 1,818 wildfires across the province from April 1, close to the 10-year average of 1,870. However, in August wildfire management battled an unprecedented 114 blazes in one day — the most they responded to during the season thanks to a long, dry spell followed by very active lightening storms.

Firefighters, both residential and wildland, train long and hard. When they are called on they often put their lives at risk, searching for survivors, trying to save homes, pets, even memories.

Last June 19 members of the elite U.S. Granite Mountain Hotshots firefighters, who were battling a raging inferno in central Arizona, were engulfed by wind-whipped flames. They were on the third day of a lightning-sparked blaze that destroyed scores of homes and charred 8,400 acres in and around the tiny town of Yarnell, northwest of Phoenix.

There was one survivor.

The disaster marked the greatest loss of life from a U.S. wildfire since 1933, when more than two-dozen firefighters were killed battling the Griffith Park fire in Los Angeles.

The public rarely gets a look inside this life, so Pique wanted to share this High Country News feature, which offers a unique glimpse into firefighting for Fire Prevention Week.

Gregg Boydston is a member of the Klamath Hotshot Crew, an elite group of wildland firefighters. Hotshots must pass an especially rigorous fitness test dubbed the "Arduous" test to prove they are capable of the physical demands of the work. For six months a year, they spend 14 to 21 days at a time working up to 16 hours a day. They carry heavy packs with tools like chainsaws and shovels, in addition to water and food, to some of the hottest perimeters of wildfires. They cut trees and dig soil to clear firelines — miles-long swaths, two to ten feet wide, with no vegetation — and do backburns to contain the spread of a fire. To secure still-hot burn areas, they "mop up" by felling dead trees and extinguishing lingering flames. While fighting fires, Boydston has been photographing life in the field and sharing it with a growing audience online.

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