Spearfish firefighters return from battling Calif. wildfire

Destruction strikes awe in eyes of firefighters

SPEARFISH, S.D. – It’s called the Camp Fire, a wildfire north of Sacramento, California that has burned more than 150,000 acres. It’s a wildfire that as of Nov. 25 has destroyed nearly 14,000 homes, wiped a town of 26,000 off the map, and claimed the lives of at least 85 people.

Firefighters Brayden Ashworth, Thomas Hageman, and Heath Brown, all of the Spearfish Fire Department, went to California for nine days to help fight the "Camp Fire" wildfire north of Sacramento. Photo Date: Nov. 28, 2018.

Firefighters Brayden Ashworth, Thomas Hageman, and Heath Brown.

Help came from across the country – more than 1,000 firefighters answered the call for help. Among them were three from Spearfish who spent nine days helping fight the fire in California: Brayden Ashworth, Heath Brown, and Thomas Hageman.

Ashworth, a volunteer firefighter with the Spearfish Fire Department, said the scale of the destruction that they saw when they got to California was jaw-dropping.

“There was almost this wave of almost awe just seeing the amount of destruction that had went through,” Ashworth said. “You can see just where things used to be and aren’t anymore. It’s definitely a power to behold.”

Among the tasks that the Spearfish firefighters performed was a search for fire victims – a potentially gruesome task that can be emotionally stressful. But to succeed, Ashworth said that emotions have to be put aside on the job.

“You just have to remind yourself why you’re there,” Ashworth said. “You have to remember that you’re doing this for somebody else and you have to power through it. It’s just part of the job.”

The team did not find the bodies of any victims. But Hageman said that did not necessarily put their minds at ease.

“You can go two ways with that,” Hageman said. “You can be grateful that you didn’t [find a victim], knowing that were no victims where we were. But it’s also hard because we know the number of missing increased on a daily basis.”

The Camp Fire is now 100 percent contained, thanks to the three firefighters from Spearfish, and the more than 1,000 others from around the country who flocked to California to battle the fire. Mop-up activity will soon give way to rebuilding and recovery.

The Spearfish firefighters were proud of their contribution to the firefighting effort.

“Personally, it feels really good knowing that I was able to help out in this event,” Ashworth said. “It’s 100 percent contained now, which is really good, and I’m just happy to know that I was able to do my part to help get it there.”

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