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Stories & Facts


Do you know how wildland firefighters try to survive in a "blow-up" or a crown fire? Do you know that thousands of Native Americans from throughout the nation each year form fire crews that fight wildland fires in our National Parks and Forests as well as on their reservations? That they form Helitec and Hot Shot crews as well as standby crews? That the Mescalero Apache "Red Hats" in 1948 formally organized the first all-Native firefighting crews?

FIREWARRIORS: Native American Wildland Firefighters by Jennie R. Joe and Dorothy Lonewolf Miller includes pictures, quotes and anecdotes, as well as facts about these mostly unsung men and women, many of whom proudly claim to be the third or fourth generation firefighter in their families. The following is an excerpt:

"Wildland fires that are out of control present an awesome danger. Most occur in isolated, heavily wooded areas; many occur in mountains, canyons, gullies, and impassable areas. Fires are most likely to occur when the timberland is dry and when the weather is very hot. A fire soaks up the air and turns in into a suffocating inferno. Winds can send a fire roaring like a thousand trains, whip flames a hundred feet high, and fan the flames through the tree tops in a matter of seconds. A fire with severe intensity can "blow- up" or create its own chimney in an updraft....All firefighters are equipped with an aluminum sheet that can be used as a protective covering when a firefighter is trapped by a raging fire. They are told to 'lay on the ground, dig your face into the dirt, cover yourself with the tent and lay quietly' while the raging flames scorch over them. Firefighters tell of the sheer terror of being trapped, and the idea of digging in is against all instincts to flee."

This is a review by Pat Grames of:

Firewarriors: Native American Wildland Firefighters , a monograph by Jennie R. Joe, Ph.D., MPH, and Dorothy Lonewolf Miller, DSW. Published by the Native American Research and Training Center, The University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona. 1993.

The picture on the cover, reproduced to the right, is by the Apache artist Earl Sisto.