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NW firefighter families watch, wait and worry


As the fight on fire lines continues around the Pacific Northwest, hundreds of families of firefighters continue to hope their loved ones remain safe.

“I’m proud of him,” Grace Deboodt of Prineville said Tuesday. Her son, Russ Deboodt, works for Crook County Fire and Rescue and was sent out to the County Line 2 Fire in Warm Springs.

“I’m proud of how they protect other people,” Grace Deboodt said

Pride is something that all family members of firefighters have in common.

“He’s with the Jackson Hot Shots out of Mississippi,” said Wendy Barto, whose husband, Steve Lowry, is working on the Canyon Creek Fire near John Day. “I’m super proud of him.”

Amelia Barto, their 13-year old daughter, shares that pride: “I showed my friends (a picture of him) in sixth grade and they were like, ‘Wow, your dad’s a Hot Shot.”

There is a price families of firefighters have to pay.

“I love him, but he’s usually never home for my birthdays,” Amelia said.

This year has proven to be an historic fire season.

“In the past, we’ve been able to see him a little more often than just four days over the summer,” Barto said.

Barto’s husband has been on several fires all over the country this season.

“It would be a lot easier if I could at least talk to him, but a lot of the times they don’t even have cell service,” Barto said.

She saw a photo from a Washington newspaper of her husband running with his crew. Later, she learned the story behind that picture.

“They were running from the fire because it had gotten too close and (the propane tank) was going to blow — and sure enough later it blew,” Barto said.

A day after her husband was sent to Twisp, Wash., three firefighters died on the lines of that fire.

“That was really hard, because, that could have easily been him,” Barto said, holding back tears.

Barto learned about the death of the firefighters through text messages from her friends.

“He knows what he’s doing,” Barto said. “He’s not going to tell me ‘Hey, I’m going to this place, where these firefighters were just killed.'”

It’s a loss that has affected all firefighters across the country.

“I can’t even begin to understand walking in the shoes of a firefighter,” Deboodt said. “But I know what family is. And I know that they’re family for each other.”

All they can do at home do is trust that their loved ones will stay safe.

“He’s tough as nails, he really is,” Barto said of her husband.

Deboodt said, “I think any mom is going to be worried about their son. But what I know about Russ, and what I know about all the men and women he works with is that they are well-educated, they’re well-practiced, they’re smart, they’re brave.”

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