California ‘Little Tujunga Hotshots’ helping Cherokee National Forest with fire danger and drought conditions


COCKE COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – A highly skilled firefighting team from Los Angeles, California traveled hundreds of miles to help crews in the Cherokee National Forest as our region continues to deal with dangerous drought conditions.

The ‘Little Tujunga Hotshots’ made the drive from The Golden State to assist the Unaka Ranger District of the Cherokee National Forest with wild fires.

“There here for severity,” said Ben Ingram, Fuel Specialist for the north zone of the Cherokee National Forest. “We’re really dry, kind of like the 2016 year that we had.”

It was a busy day for the hotshots crew, as they worked to clear trees and brush from around the Meadow Creek Fire Tower.

“We’re doing a 100-foot clear cut around that and then some thinning projects beyond that,” said Hotshots Captain Pedro Marron, “thus reducing the fuel load for any kind of wildfire threat.”

The crew is also working to clear a buffer around a nearby communications tower, which are crucial for EMS services.

“Tennessee has a lot of hardwoods, a lot of leaf litter,” said Marron, “so we may use different types of tools to contain that fire, such as leaf blowers and counsel rakes.”

While this hotshot crew has been primarily dispatched to the Cherokee National Forest to assist with wild fires, they also work on special projects like this during down time.

This buffer will help with firefighter safety, should a wildfire arise.

“If we have a fire down in the valley and it starts to race up toward the tower,” said Ingram, “it has a place to calm down in the canopy before it gets to the site.”

Hotshot crews normally work on 14-day assignments. They are requested and sent out through the Cherokee National Forest’s dispatch center.

“When we put an order through dispatch,” said Ingram, “whoever has their name available and they are not busy, in there home unit, then we’ll bump and cover and help other resource areas, other parts of the country.”

Ingram said the hazardous fuel treatment being conducted is relatively new and he hopes it will serve as an example to communities and homeowners surrounding the forest on how to cut down on fire danger.

The hotshot crew will wrap up their operations in the Unaka Ranger District in a little under a week.

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