Kirtland AFB firefighters deploy to fight largest US wildland fire

  • Published
  • By John Cochran

A team of firefighters from Kirtland Air Force Base has deployed to combat the largest wildland fire in the United States. 

The combined Hermit’s Peak and Calf Canyon fire is burning in the Santa Fe National Forest, between Santa Fe, N.M. and Las Vegas, N.M., about one hour drive northeast of the Kirtland AFB. The Hermit’s Peak fire started burning April 6, and the Calf Canyon fire started April 19. The two fires merged April 22. As of 9 a.m. May 12, the combined fire has burned nearly 260,000 acres, more than 370 square miles, and is 29% contained. 

On May 11, four Kirtland firefighters traveled to an airstrip in Angel Fire, N.M., where firefighting helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft were staged to drop flame retardants. To protect the aircraft, airfield and surrounding 50,000 acres of wildland, they took an aircraft rescue firefighting vehicle, an ultra-high-pressure vehicle and a utility vehicle, as well as tents. 

Kirtland AFB Fire Department Battalion Chief Terence Eaton, a 26-year veteran of the department, is leading the team while they live in field conditions for a two-week rotation. Also deployed are Battalion Chief Jefferson Buller, Lt. Alfonso Rankin, and driver/operator Daniel Sanchez. 

“Fighting this fire is a multi-agency effort and part of mutual aid, with us and other departments. It will take years for the environment to recover,” Eaton said. 

The Southwestern United States’ long-term extreme drought, strong winds and high temperatures have created ideal conditions for wildland fires. More than a dozen fires are currently burning in the region. To counter the Hermit’s Peak and Calf Canyon fire, more than 1,800 firefighters and other responders have arrived. The fire has destroyed hundreds of homes and structures, and about 12,000 households have been told to evacuate for their safety.