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Another year, another fire.
Wildfires in California, Missouri and Michigan were some of the locations of the most recent excursions of two local men. Hamburg residents Chris Sturm and Steve Cashman have both fought wildfires as a part of the Hamburg Volunteer Forrest Fire Crew for over 25 years now, and there is no end in sight for the two men as far as they are concerned.
“I like to do it,” said Sturm, 57, of battling the blazes, which he has done since 1987; he plans on continuing “until I can’t do it anymore.”
Cashman’s attitude in regards to his cessation of fighting the wildfires is the same. He plans to continue “as long as they let me or I get tired of sleeping on the ground in a tent.” So far, the 62-year-old has fought the fires for 46 years, beginning with the Hamburg Volunteer Forrest Fire Crew in 1966. He was on the first crew that went west to fight a blaze back in 1973.
Now, however, he is on an incident management team.
“There’s no way I’m going to keep up with 20-year-olds at 5,000 feet,” said Cashman.
Both Cashman and Sturm explained that the elevation and terrain are the main differences between fighting fires in the local area versus those battled out west.
“You can get some good runs on fires here but out there the fires blow up,” said Cashman, of the wildfires out west. “We get small, ground leaf fires and sometimes it gets up into the brush. But nothing like out west. It’s totally different.”
“The terrain’s a lot steeper out there. It’s a lot drier. The trees are bigger,” he said. “The fire will make a quicker run on a slope. The run is a lot faster. And then it gets all these different type winds that can make it run like crazy.”
Sturm also pointed out that other issues faced with the wildfires in the west are rock slides and much bigger trees.
Due to the volatile nature of these fires, the men know that danger is inherently a part of the task. Cashman said he was at a fire one time that blew up and he and the others fighting the blaze had to actually run up a hill to safety. Sturm said he has never experienced any brushes that close with danger, but he did have to relocate to a safety zone before.
But, regardless of the danger or where the fire is located, Sturm said the residents of the areas are very appreciative of the firefighters’ efforts; he likewise stated that the scene is always shocking when he returns to a site and views the devastation caused by the fire.
“When you go back the next day and nothing is there, that kind of strikes you,” he said.
But the amount of destruction Sturm and Cashman see will not hinder the two men from traveling to the locations where their services are needed.
“She knows it’s business as usual,” said Sturm, in regards to his wife’s reaction when he leaves to battle a wildfire. “The kids kind of accept it now, too.”
Preston and Anna Derk were the founders of the Hamburg Volunteer Forrest Fire Crew in 1949. Anyone interested in becoming a firefighter for the Hamburg Volunteer Forrest Fire Crew should contact Dean Dalious at 610-488-6620.