Firefighters recharge amid chaos - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Firefighters recharge amid chaos

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Posted: Saturday, June 25, 2005 5:53 am | Updated: 9:53 am, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Exhausted firefighters line the hallways of Sonoran Trails Middle School in Carefree.

Some are curled up, trying to get some sleep. Others wait for the signal to go back to the blaze known as the Cave Creek Complex fire.

Outside, tents litter the baseball field of the school, which on Friday served as base camp for crews battling the fire burning in north Scottsdale and the Tonto National Forest.

The fire, which began as two lightning-caused fires Tuesday, had scorched more than 60,000 acres and destroyed at least 10 homes by Friday.

Some of the men and women worked the fire for 16 hours at a time, hiking through rough terrain in scorching heat, digging fire lines and clearing brush while dressed in thick fire-resistant clothes.

The priority upon return to base camp: Wash, eat, sleep.

For organizers, it’s a big job to feed and hydrate roughly 700 people.

Crews go through 5,000 pounds of ice and about 3,500 bottles of water a day, said Chuck Sundt, facilities unit leader for the Southwest Area Incident Management Team, the Type 1 crew fighting the fire.

The team has worked on other national disasters, such as Hurricane Andrew in Florida and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

Crews also need to get energy from food, which costs about $100 per firefighter per day, said Alvin Brown, food unit leader for the team.

For this fire, that works out to about $70,000 a day.

"Food is very important," said Brown, who firefighters call the "Food Dude." "We’ve had years where we’ve spent more on food than (on) air tankers, and air tankers are expensive."

Inside the middle school, Valena Nosie, 42, leaned against a brick wall to rest, ready to leave at a moment’s notice.

As a firefighter for the past seven years, the White River resident has fought some of the state’s worst fires, including the 2002 Rodeo-Chediski fire that burned more than 470,000 acres in eastern Arizona.

The toughest part of the job is leaving her children behind for up to two weeks at a time, she said. Nosie of the Fort Apache Indian Reservation is a single mother with five children ranging in age from 7 to 17.

Jobs on the reservation are scarce, she explained.

"I have to support my kids," she said.

Nosie supports more than her children. As a squad boss for her fire crew, she’s in charge of keeping track of four other firefighters when they’re on the line and helping them if they need it.

Andrew Sanchez, who works with Nosie, said he admires the risks she takes to feed her family.

"If that were my mom, I’d be afraid," he said. "It’d be hard to see her go and not know what she’s doing or how she’s doing. It’s a very risky job."

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