Local crew of elite firefighters working to protect Carson City | NevadaAppeal.com

Local crew of elite firefighters working to protect Carson City

Rick Gunn/Nevada Appeal Bureau of Indian Affairs Morning Star Hot Shot Matt McCann stands next to his vehicle near Franktown Road on Saturday afternoon. His crew was in the middle of the firestorm which destroyed seven homes in Kings Canyon on Wednesday.

Wednesday afternoon the Morning Star Hot Shots, an elite firefighting group based in Carson City, were working to protect homes in Kings Canyon when the blaze changed dramatically.

“That was something else,” said squad boss Matt McCann, a 13-year wildfire veteran.

“The winds picked up on us just like that,” he said, snapping his fingers. “It was probably the most intense moment ever in fire for me.”

His crew split in half, 10 taking trucks down and 10 staying behind to protect homes. Fire engines and media trucks were burned over as the storm of fire swept through the neighborhood.

“There were people trying to back out and people trying to come up – it was crazy,” McCann said, coughing after three days of smoke inhalation.

His crew was not afraid – but definitely concerned.

“You could see it in their faces. We sucked a lot of smoke but we were OK.”

Hot Shots like the Morning Star crew are the most elite hand crews fighting fire in the United States.

“They’re very much like the military – you’ll see them marching in single file. They eat together, they sleep together,” said fire information officer Franklin Pemberton.

Hot Shots must meet more stringent requirements for training, physical fitness and experience.

“They usually get the toughest assignments in the roughest terrain. These are the guys that can haul 45 pounds and fight fire all day,” said Pemberton, who worked as a Hot Shot for one season.

“It was the hardest summer of my life,” he said.

The Morning Star group was started in 2003 at the Western Nevada Agency of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Fire Management Officer Jacqueline C. Hawley said she saw the potential of the American Indian people to create an elite team. She also knew of their need for economic development.

She chose the name Morning Star because it represents the first thing seen in the morning and the group strives to be first in everything they do.

The crew has become a flagship unit for the fire management program of the BIA, she said in a statement.

“We will continue to make every effort to raise our standards in order to become a top Hot Shot crew in the country,” she said.

Saturday the Morning Star crew drove almost to Hobart Reservoir above Franktown Road in Washoe Valley. Then they hiked carrying chain saws, fuel, tools and five bottles of water each, for an hour and half up a steep ridge. There they worked all day cutting fire lines through the forest.

At night fall they planned to “spike out,” or spend the night on the hill.

“We’ll hike back toward our buggies (trucks), pull out our sleeping bags and go to sleep,” said McCann.

For McCann, who has fought fire all over the West, protecting his hometown means more.

“It’s the same everywhere you go but when you’re at home – that’s when it really hits you.”

Of 37 hand crews working the Waterfall fire, 16 are elite Hot Shot crews. They include, but are not limited to, the Klamath Hot Shots, Diamond Mountain Hot Shots, Black Mountain Hot Shots, Boundary Peak Hot Shots, Morning Star Hot Shots, Smoky Bear Hot Shots, Santa Fe Hot Shots and Gila Hot Shots.

Contact Karl Horeis at khoreis@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1219.