Cherokee Fire Dancers On Standby For California Wildfire Relief

Sunday, September 1st 2013, 11:15 pm
By: News On 6

A local group of firefighters could soon find themselves in California, helping get a handle on those flames.

The specially trained Cherokee Fire Dancers just got home after battling the massive wildfires in Oregon for the past month.

Lacey Crawford is one of only two women with the Cherokee Nation's fire dancers, and she's been battling fires for over a decade.

"We had to dig a 3-foot by 2-foot deep trench beneath the hills to catch any debris that might come down," Crawford said.

She and nine other specially trained firefighters left at the end of July, traveling to Oregon and Idaho to fight six different wildfires.

"It's usually a 14-hour day that we work," she said.

Fourteen hours of digging trenches, cutting fire lines, battling the weather and hiking up to 5 miles a day with nearly 50 pounds of equipment on their back.

Over a month, the crew only had two days off.

"It's easier when you trust who you're with," fire dancer Billy Wacoche said. "She's hard to keep up with."

Nine-year veteran Wacoche is no slouch himself, he says he can carry that 50-pound backpack 3 miles in 38 minutes.

They carry the silver sheet that acts as fire shelter in dire situations, food, lots of water and of course...

"We walk out there and do it all with a shovel," Wacoche said.

Wacoche also plays a vital role that he calls "spinning the weather."

A device measures the dew point, something that can help determine how fast a fire will travel on a given day.

"It's real important, it might be your life you know," Wacoche said.

The crew has been to all four corners of the nation since its start in 1988.

On the recent trip, the fire dancers estimate they dug enough trenches by hand to reach from Tulsa to Tahlequah and halfway back.

"It's going to be long hours, hard work and little to no sleep and I'm prepared for that," he said. "That's what I like about the job."

The Fire Dancers say one of their biggest challenges was the weather, and sometimes they wake up outside to 30- or 40-degree temperatures.

And they don't just battle wildfires. They also helped with Hurricane Sandy relief.