‘These crews are ordered for some of the most difficult missions’: Colorado firefighters help crews make progress in Canadian fires sending smoke southward

The Craig Interagency Hotshots were sent to help Canadian officials fight what was once more than 100 wildfires.
Published: May. 23, 2023 at 6:43 PM MDT|Updated: May. 24, 2023 at 4:57 AM MDT
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - Across much of the United States, millions have been dealing with the impacts of smoke from nearly 100 fires in Alberta, Canada. Over the past week, though, fire crews have been making progress, with some help from a Colorado hotshot crew.

On Thursday, the Craig Interagency Hotshot Crew was one of several hotshot crews from across the U.S. sent to join the nearly 3,000 firefighters working to put out the fires sending smoke southward.

As of Sunday, they faced 91 active wildfires. But just two days later, the Canadian International Forest Fire Center reported 69 fires, with the number slowly going down. The Bureau of Land Management said Canadian fire crews were struggling to keep up with the once-rising number, hence an international response. While crossing these borders is unique, Brian Achziger, the state fire management officer for BLM’s Colorado department, said the team they sent is more than ready for the challenge.

“These crews are ordered for some of the most difficult missions we have on incidents, typically, and so they are a very physically fit crew,” Achziger said.

The crew sent from Craig, Colorado, is among several interagency crews held to a much higher standard than a typical fire crew. On their website, they describe the team as one that embodies “professionalism, pride, and humility.” But Achziger describes them with three more words.

“Leaders, experts and ... dedicated.”

Although crossing international borders is unique, this crew is no stranger to large-scale responses. Their website lists the recovery effort for Hurricane Katrina as one of their efforts to help the country. They were sent to Canada when BLM decided to mobilize the next hotshot crew on a rotation that determines response to large-scale emergencies. Craig’s crew is one of several from the region, and one of even more nationwide.

Achziger said part of the reason the Rocky Mountain region was even able to help with the response is because of what he said was a lack of active fires across Colorado.

“So, if we were busy, it would be harder to send one of our crews or multiple crews from our geographic area in our state to help support other areas, so that’s definitely a plus side of this,” he said.

But with an elite team comes a cost, he said, when asked what he would tell the team if he were there with them on the front lines.

“The first thing I’d do is thank them for their hard work and dedication to the the firefighting mission,” he said. “Obviously these crews fight a lot of our fires, firefighters spend a lot of time away from home, and so it’s a rare opportunity to get to do an international assignment such as this. It’s still taxing on the families and folks that they leave behind at home.”

Luckily, according to the 11 Breaking Weather team, fire crews could be getting some much-needed help in the form of rain in Alberta. With the number of active fires steadily decreasing, the Craig Hotshots could return home to Colorado -- and, hopefully, to clear skies -- in the near future.