By Brenda Maguire
Firefighters from Berlin, New Britain and Wethersfield returned to Connecticut on Monday after assisting with wildfires in Superior National Forest in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota.
The firefighters stayed in Minnesota for two weeks helping to cut fire lines to stop the spread of the wildfires.
New Britain firefighter Keith Ciccarillo, emergency response coordinator for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection; Rich Scalora of Berlin; and Andy Bykowski of Wethersfield, environmental compliance specialist for DEEP, traveled to Minnesota with 17 other state firefighters.
“At the airport [in Minneapolis] going home, we had a lot of people coming up to us,” Bykowski said. “They were very appreciative.”
He added, “Those are the memories that stick with you.”
Bykowski said when they first arrived in Minnesota the firefighters paddled into the fire area. They stayed on an island that was about eight acres long and camped there. A float plane dropped off packs of food, six days worth, and gear such as pots and pans.
“During the day we would paddle out from the campsite to the fire line and use chain saws to cut the line,” Bykowski said.
The group would find areas where there was a line of burnt trees or brush next to green trees or brush. They would then create a long line to cut out the trees and brush to keep the fire from spreading.
One guy would start the line with a chain saw while the others pulled the newly cut trees away from the burnt ones.
They also worked to cut out hot spots, areas where a tree is burnt through but the roots are still on fire underground. Because no water was available, they wore gloves and mixed soil with the embers until they were extinguished.
The group that went was a mix of DEEP staff and state firefighters who are trained and certified to participate in the mutual-aid program administered by the U.S. Forest Service.
“We had a great group of people who were hard-working,” Bykowski said.
Officials say lightning started the fire Aug. 18. Flames spread over 93,000 acres in northeast Minnesota. As of Monday it was 60 percent contained.