El Paso Co., CO (U.S. Army) — The Black Forest fire was 65 percent contained as of Monday, officials said. The 22-square-mile blaze killed at least two people and destroyed nearly 500 homes.
It was keeping at least 150 Colorado National Guard members busy, including those fathers who were away from home the one day of the year set aside to honor them.
Staff Sgt. Shane Merlihan, with the 1157th Engineer Firefighter Company, has been so concentrated on the mission that he didn't realize it was Father's Day on Sunday.
As a full-time firefighter in his civilian career, Merlihan said his family is accustomed to him being away on special days.
"My family understands it's a sacrifice I make, not only for my country, but for the state of Colorado," he said. "It's just a day. We'll celebrate it Monday, or two weeks from now, if that's when I get home. We'll make that Father's Day no matter what day it is."
Merlihan said he tries not to have his own worries on his mind while on mission. Safety for firefighters is paramount, and it's necessary to focus on the task at hand.
"No time to let your mind slip," he said.
Lt. Col. Bren Rogers, Task Force-Security commander who oversees the National Guard Reaction Force, said many fathers who are out providing security for the community, and says those in her command are honored to do their duty to help families who are suffering.
"It's a higher calling," she said. "When you see the citizens who have gone through such tragedy, it's worth the sacrifice to support them."
Staff Sgt. Joseph Jarvis, 947th Engineer Company, is a red-card certified heavy-equipment mechanic working with the 1157th firefighters.
He and his team are protecting structures by "prepping," a task that involves moving anything made of wood away from the house, repositioning propane tanks, scraping back any flammable liquids, and directly attacking spot fires by hosing them down with water and digging fire breaks with hand tools.
He has three girls, ages 9 to 15. Jarvis said he applies himself to getting through the days away from them: Making sure the job is done right so people can come back and find their homes still standing.
"When it's your neighborhood, your city, and you're watching it burn, you want to help," Jarvis said.
As a Guard member who has deployed several times, he said his being gone on a mission is something they've dealt with before, but service to the community is also a big priority. And his family understands and supports him.
"You miss holidays, birthdays," he said. "We're doing what only a few people do, and take pride in it. When I see my daughters playing, I do it so they won't have to."