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NC firefighters return from weeks spent battling wildfires out west

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) - As wildfires continue to rage out of control in the western United States, many are out on the front lines battling the fires up and down the west coast, including fire crews from North Carolina.

CBS 17 talked with firefighters with the North Carolina Forest Service who are now back home after weeks of battling blazes out west.

Chris Hirni is back with his family in Orange County after spending the last few weeks helping crews battle the Natchez Fire in northern California.

"It's hot, it's dry, it's very, very smokey, and you just adapt to it," the Orange and Durham County Ranger for the N.C. Forest Service said. "When I got there three weeks ago, it was just over 3,000 acres. Now, it's up in the 12,000-acre range.

Hirni described conditions on the front lines.

"Another fire to the north, the Klondike Fire, was actually sending all of its smoke our way for a very large portion," he said. "Over half of the time, the smoke from the Klondike Fire would actually shade out our fire, which would lower the fire behavior."

In Person County, George Brown is back after a couple of weeks in Oregon attacking the Garner Complex Fire.

"A lot of the other fires around us were blowing up, just getting started, spreading and burning thousands of acres," the Assistant County Ranger for the N.C. Forest Service said.

Having also battled wildfires for years throughout the country, Brown said the biggest challenge is being away from loved ones.

"You miss your just normal life itself because you're living out of a tent," Brown said. "You're eating camp food every day. You're around people you don't know, though you get to know them over time and talk to them. [You] become friends with them pretty quickly."

While both are looking forward to being with families for the near future, they said they're always ready to answer the call.

"Be ready to go, help them out again [and] do whatever they need me to do," Brown said.

"[It's] kind of like a brotherhood [and] sisterhood, to where it's when you're bad, we're going to come help you, and hope it's reciprocal. And it always is," Hirni said.

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