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Smoke Eaters

Inside the Big Wilson Burn at Warm Springs Mountain

Travis Robertson, Jean Lorber and Jennifer Dalke prepare to leave the staging area at Trappers Lodge. Their Nomex suits won't be clean for long.

The ground crews use drip torches to ignite along fire lines, including dirt roads and trails cleared with leaf blowers and rakes.

The ground crews negotiate some challenging rocky terrain on the mountain.

“One thing fire does, it’ll create some holes in the canopy by burning some trees down, and more sunlight hits the ground,” says Pat Sheridan, district ranger for the Forest Service.

Judy Dunscomb holds an example of the tiny incendiary balls that will be dropped from the helicopter to accelerate the burn.

Sam Truslow, Virginia land steward, keeps watch on the fire line from an ATV equipped with a water pump.

A camera mounted on the helicopter's strut will record the fire from the air.

The Big Wilson Burn as Sam Lindblom and the flight team see it during the aerial ignition.

Nikole Swaney, from the Conservancy's Allegheny Highlands Program, patrols the fire line.

Ground crews work well into the night, patrolling fire lines, smothering hotspots and eating smoke. Return to story.

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