Norwalk fireman faces forest fires in drought-stricken Montana

Cary Ashby • Jul 26, 2017 at 9:00 AM

Norwalk Firefighter Ben Blodgett is in eastern Montana fighting forest fires.

Blodgett is expected to be stationed in Miles City, Mont. for 14 days. He is using vacation or “comp” time through Norwalk. Chief John Soisson said his department has done some schedule shifting to accommodate for Blodgett’s absence, but he noted the other firefighters have been great in their flexibility.

Upon receiving the call for assistance Friday, Blodgett texted Soisson and notified the chief that he had less than 24 hours to report to the Ohio Fire Academy in Reynoldsburg. Blodgett, a registered forestry firefighter since 2010, left Saturday night.

Soisson said Blodgett told him he will be on a brush engine fighting about 225,000 acres of forest fires.

“it’s hard, physical work,” the chief added. “Not only can he help with the big picture, he helps with (local) wild land fires.”

Norwalk Safety-Service Director Dan Wendt also is supportive of Blodgett’s federal firefighting work.

“I support Blodgett 100 percent. It’s our responsibility to provide mutual aid to our neighbors whenever we’re able to and I hope that that will be returned in kind should we ever have a similar type of disaster,” he said.

Wendt agrees with the chief that Blodgett can bring his experience in Montana back for local training with other firefighters.

“In the department we get to leverage Blodgett’s professional experience,” Wendt added. 

Blodgett has joined at least 300 firefighting personnel handling the blazes in the eastern Montana range land.

According to the Billings Gazette, after forcing evacuation orders Friday night, the Lodgepole Complex fire continued to burn across the drought-stricken area Saturday and by nightfall it was an estimated 200,000 acres in size and zero percent was contained. Tim Engrav, deputy public information officer with Rick Connell's Western Montana Type 2 Incident Management Team, said there could be 500 personnel — excluding local firefighters, landowners and volunteers — by the end of Sunday if all the requests were filled.

“It’s dangerous work, but someone has to do it and we look forward to his (Blodgett’s) safe return,” Wendt said.

This is the second time the Ohio Division of Forestry has deployed Blodgett to work a forest fire in another state. 

In 2015, Blodgett was paid by the federal government while working in the Siskiyou Wilderness, which covers about 182,000 acres in California. There were four forest fires in the area; the Ohio Interagency Fire Crew arrived on day 30 and battled the blaze called “the Bear” on the northern end of Siskiyou.

“This was roughly 6,000 acres,” Blodgett said in 2015. “These were (caused by) lightning strikes.”

The 2007 Huron High School graduate was on a “hand crew,” using axes, shovels, fire rakes and chainsaws to cut fire lines. The firefighters’ goal is to cut the “fuel” of the blaze by using their tools to reach base mineral soil.

“The only way to really fight a forest fire is to cut line,” Blodgett said. “When you say base mineral soil, you’re talking just dirt. You even get rid of the rocks because rocks absorb heat.”

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