Region 8 man returns from fighting California wildfires

LAWRENCE COUNTY, AR (KAIT) - A Region 8 man recently returned from fighting major wildfires in California.

Eric Smith is a Lawrence County Ranger and has been on several trips to help with wildfires since 2001.

Smith said the current fire continues to spread and is causing crews a difficult time containing it.

"When a plane come back to get a new load they are kind of telling us what it is doing and just one day we sent out six loads on the big air tanker. Each time they would come back, they would say it is running like crazy, we can't catch it. For them to say they can't catch it is amazing because they drop 11 thousand gallons at one time," Eric Smith said.

Eric was stationed on the air tanker base and loaded the planes with fire retardant.

He got on ground updates from pilots.

"The pilots when they come back, they are telling us what it is doing saying it is blowing up on this canon and this ridge," Smith said.

He told Region 8 News these fires can spread fast and leave nothing in their path.

"I have always told people I see a lot of country, it is green when I get there and it is black when I leave," Smith said.

Smith said it is so important for volunteers to help crews with these massive fire.

"If you didn't have everybody coming, we would never get a handle on them, so it takes a lot of people," Smith said.

While Eric heads off to fight these fires, his wife Linda is back here in Region 8 hoping he comes home safe.

Smith said when her husband first starting going to help she was very worried, but she has always been proud of him.

"Back in the day it was scary and I would cry when he left, but now I see what a service he is doing for his country and honestly he has a God given talent and I appreciate his agency the Arkansas Forestry commission for letting him go and help,"  Smith said.

Her husband used to work on the ground fighting the fires, but after an accident, he switched to helping on the air base.

Smith said her husband has an important job on the base and she could not be more proud of his work and giving nature.

"I am very proud of him, Eric by nature is a very giving person. It is not an easy job he has a lot of responsibility and he is over a lot of people and everything that goes on in loading those airplanes he is in charge of and it is a pretty big deal," Smith said.

Smith said although the trips have become easier on her over the years she knows the devastation takes a toll on her husband.

Eric Smith was in Arizona a few years back when several firefights were killed.

"I know what that did to him emotionally, in fact when he came home from that experience and being around the pilots that saw it and the people that knew the firefighters he was a changed man and it was very emotional for him to witness something like that,"  Smith said.

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