Iowans head west to fight fires

Published 09/02 2015 09:50PM

Updated 09/02 2015 09:50PM

Iowans are going out to the western states to battle the ongoing fires.

Iowa DNR Fire Specialist Ryan Schlater has battled 20 fires in separate states over his 12 year career. Schlater left in early August for what he thought was going to be a four day trip extinguishing smoldering spots. When he met with an Iowa crew in Oregon, they met three other states and battled bounding flames for twenty days.

"There were 50 foot flames and being 40 yards from you is intense. You can feel your skin getting sunburned but it’s instantaneous,” said Schlater. "The fire came up over the rim of the canyon and torched 75 foot cedar trees. It sent 150 foot flames up and shot out spot fires."

Schlater was one of 600-700 firefighters battling near Warm Springs, Oregon, just south of the Washington state border. While they were there, they helped save around ten homes.

Schlater said the fires were so hot it would feel like instant sunburn on his face. He also said the heat melted an engine’s mirror and their cooler.

The flames were so intense they were forced to move to their safety zone, something he’s only had to do twice in the past.

"It’s a rare occurrence, but we went to our safety zone four times and that’s unheard of for the most part,” said Schlater.

The Iowa DNR and firemen worked 12-14 hour days, many using vacation days from their other jobs.  

"It can be intense. Some days you were just too tired to shower, so you’d go to bed dirty,” said Schlater.

Schlater recalled when the news came in about the three Washington firemen who were killed. He said it weighed heavily on everyone’s mind.

"There was a moment of silence there for them at the briefing. Since we're all brothers and sisters, we're a close knit family. We’re only together seven or eight days and you become close and become friends with them because you work in such high intensity areas with fighters trained like you are. We think about it a lot….everyday,” said Schlater.

Back in Iowa, its obvious sitting behind a desk is hard for Schalter. He’s already planning on going back either Friday or next Monday.

"I think anybody has a certain amount of adrenaline rush from going out and being a part of something bigger than you are and helping people. That’s the main reason we go back out," said Schlater.  

So far, the northwestern fires have burned 8.2 million acres so far. The fires have set a record in Washington as the most devastating in history. 

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