Local hotshots head to Puerto Rico to provide hurricane relief

The Crane Valley Hotshots, a 20-man crew based out of North Fork, was selected to assist in the Hurricane Maria relief efforts in Puerto Rico. (Photo by Ron Sundquist/Clovis Roundup)

Local hotshots are lending a hand to an island left in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

The Crane Valley Hotshots, a fire crew stationed out of North Fork, were selected along with other hotshot crews from around the state to assist with hurricane relief in Puerto Rico.

While their specialty is fighting wildfires, the hotshots also serve as an all-risk national and international resource prepared to assist with disasters, including earthquakes and hurricanes.

“Our main duty is to fight fires all over the United States, but we also provide relief if a natural disaster arises,” said crewmember Joshua Nagel.

As of Oct. 3, the Category-5 hurricane has left 78 dead and $91.12 billion in damages in its wake.

The 20-man crew will be primarily responsible for clearing roads and cutting down trees to clear pathways for incoming resources, and help residents and other relief crews gain access to Puerto Rico’s rural areas.

“The crew is really excited to go, they’re just chomping at the bit,” said Crane Valley Hotshots co-captain, Robert Moreno. “They know it’s new for us, new for them, so we’re all excited just to get over there. We’re going to be taking 10-12 chainsaws with us to help us with our mission of opening roadways. A lot of supplies are coming into airports but getting the supplies out is a challenge, and that’s where we come in.”

The crew took off Thursday, Oct. 5 from Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield and is expected to spend 2-4 weeks on the island.

“About 15-20 years ago, the [U.S.] Forest Service got more involved in assisting with things like natural disaster relief,” said Moreno. “When FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) came around, you started hearing more of the term ‘all-risk,’ which is what we’re doing now. It isn’t really in our wheelhouse to do this kind of disaster relief but we’re really glad to be doing it, it’s new and it’s exciting. These assignments don’t come around very often, so this is kind of a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”