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Arizona ANG firefighters support blaze battle

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Lacey Roberts
  • 162nd Wing

Arizona’s wildfire season has been a tough one this year with more than a dozen fires raging throughout the state.  Firefighters from the Arizona Air National Guard’s 162nd Wing answered a call for assistance in battling the Frye Fire near Safford, Arizona.

The fire, caused by a lightning strike, began June 7, 2017 and burned more than 48,000 acres in the Pinaleña Mountains.  The mountain range is comprised of some of the highest peaks in the state including Mount Graham, home to the international observatory.

On June 20, 2017 the 162nd Wing received an order to activate three citizen-Airmen in support of the Frye Wildland Fire incident management team’s aviation section.  The Airmen’s training and expertise equipped them to assist the state and community fight the blaze. 

The Guardsmen supported aircraft operations at the Safford Regional Airport.

“Our firefighters are trained in basic firefighting requirements and specialize in aviation fire protection,” said Chief Master Sgt. Les Tyree from the 162nd Fire Emergency Services.  “They are experts when it comes to F-16 operations and because our unit is located at the Tucson International Airport, they are trained to support other types of aircraft.  It is that specialized training that prepared them to respond at a moment’s notice to serve our community.”

This opportunity didn’t just allow the Guardsmen to utilize their skills to support a state operation, but also broaden their scope of knowledge about wildland firefighting.  Something they have never done before.

“After this assignment, I have a better understanding of wildland fires and how the command staff at the base camp operates,” said firefighter Airman First Class Felix Armenta. “I saw firsthand how multiple agencies come together and work as a team.”

Armenta said he looks forward to sharing his knowledge with the 162nd fire team and is ready to support future operations when the state needs him.

The fire’s devastation has impacted the entire community and visitors from all over the world looking to escape the desert heat to enjoy lush green meadows or visit one of the three research telescopes at the observatory.

One Guardsman, Staff Sgt. Jeffery Szady from the 162nd Wing Fire Department is a part-time Guardsman who lives and works near the fire area and was called to support the efforts. 

“The fire has impacted my family, friends and our community,” said Szady.  “In the short term there is a negative impact on the environment, wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation, but the fire will make the mountains less susceptible to uncontrolled fires and ultimately contribute to a more stable environment.”

According to the U.S. Forest Service, a wildfire can benefit natural resources and reduce the risk of future fires in the area.  Currently the Frye Fire is listed as 93 percent contained and restrictions remain in place for the area, but community members such as Szady look forward to getting back to hiking, hunting and fishing in their backyard.