Natchez archeologist takes on Montana fires

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 3, 2000

Joel Dukes said he would like to go back to Montana when it isn’t on fire. An archeologist with the Homochitto National Forest, Dukes is also trained to control and fight fires.

For the last three weeks, he and thousands of other firefighters from around the country have been battling wildfires in the Western states.

Dukes returned home Wednesday night from Montana’s Bitter Root Valley, where he worked to help contain a 10,000-acre fire.

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Just across the mountain, another fire, more than 100,000 acres, is also destroying the state’s forests.

Dukes said the National Forestry Service keeps a &uot;laundry list&uot; of open positions for firefighting, and he volunteered his services when needed.

Within the last year and a half, Dukes has also worked to fight fires in Florida and Mississippi’s Sand Hill crane refuge.

In Montana, Dukes was part of the helitech crew, flying in supply cargo, firefighters, water and fire retardants to the fire front. &uot;There’s a whole variety of missions we did,&uot; he said.

To keep the fire from destroying the log cabins dotting the forest, Dukes and crews would soak the cabin with water, then wrap it in a material similar to aluminum foil.

&uot;It works pretty well,&uot; Dukes said.

Some of the helicopters used to draw water to dump on the fire can suck up 20,000 gallons of water in 30 seconds, Dukes said.

Because of the enormity of the fire — some reports estimate the total area to be the size of Maine — firefighters from other countries had to be called in also, including Canada, Mexico and Australia, Dukes said.

While in Montana, Dukes said he also got a chance do some hiking. &uot;It was beautiful country,&uot; he said. &uot;I’d like to go back when it wasn’t on fire.&uot;