Utah firefighters return home after battling deadly wildfires in Tennessee

Posted at 8:50 PM, Dec 08, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-08 22:50:43-05

SPANISH FORK, Utah - About 100 volunteer firefighters from Utah, including a medical command team from Central Utah, helped battle the deadly Tennessee wildfires.

It was a 2,000-mile, 21-day journey for four Utah County firefighters.

Captain Nate Trujillo and firefighter Garrett Nielsen just returned Thursday morning.

“It was a true honor to be there and be able to help in a time of crisis for such people,” Nielsen said.

Both of them were gone over Thanksgiving, but they found some southern hospitality while they were taking on the raging flames.

“We’d sit down in a restaurant to eat dinner, and before we knew it the bill was paid,” Nielsen said. “You’d have to thank everyone in the restaurant because everyone was trying to pay the bill just to help make us feel better and closer to home.”

More than 14,000 people were evacuated, and yet Trujillo and Nielsen were still welcomed into families and treated like guests.

“There was a couple, their names were Mike and Melanie, she was just overwhelmed with joy and happiness to see us out there and she felt bad that we were away from our families and she was like ‘if you were my boys I would want someone to take care of you,'" Nielsen said. "She basically brought us in and she hugged us."

Nielsen said there were plenty of offers for places to stay.

"Families were overwhelmingly kind, they wanted us to stay in their houses, it was like, 'You can stay here no questions asked,'" he said. "They even left town and still offered it... that is how it was, it was incredible to meet people like that.”

The firefighters said that support was comforting in between hurricane-like wind gusts that powered the flames.

“The winds kicked up to over 85-miles-per-hour, and you can’t manage it after that, no matter how many resources you have,” Captain Trujillo said. “They were over 20-inches low in their precipitation, and they had a real bad drought out there. Last year and this year combined added up to real bad fire danger.”

Despite the challenges, the firefighters said they enjoy their job and would do it again in heartbeat.