Nightly News   |  August 20, 2013

‘Hardest work I’ve ever loved’: firefighting on the frontlines

The Buffalo River Company from Arkansas has joined 1200 firefighters battling the Idaho blaze that grown into the most dangerous fire in the nation. NBC’s Miguel Almaguer spent a day with the crew, who are putting their own safety in danger to protect nearby homes.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> now a growing war from the ground and in the air, accelerating tonight as wildfires spread to nearly a dozen states now. the worst conditions in years. late today the national interagency fire center listed two idaho fires as the nation's top priorities. nbc's miguel almaguer is live at base camp in haley, idaho , where one of the biggest fires is still burning. miguel , good evening.

>> reporter: lester, good evening. base camp is a city within a city. firefighters from all across the country rotate in and out of this place 24 hours a day . but when they are on that mountain behind me, they all have the same goal, protect property and lives. today the buffalo river crew from arkansas clears the way near the front lines in idaho . this team of 20, men and women, spend 16 hours a day clearing brush, creating containment lines, it's back-breaking work.

>> as the crew boss, it's my responsibility to make sure my guys are safe.

>> reporter: ryan green has fought fires in 16 states so far this summer. this month he slept in his own bed twice.

>> why do you do this work?

>> because i love it. it is the hardest work i've ever lo loved.

>> reporter: the buffalo river company joined 1,800 firefighting personnel, battling the beaver creek fire, the most dangerous in the nation. crews are making progress. only one home has been lost here so far. the johnsons are among the nearly 1,200 evacuated who could lose their dream home.

>> there was a wall of fire that i've never, ever seen in my life. phenomenal. it is a sheet of just gold.

>> reporter: nationwide, 18,000 fire personnel are working on little sleep in scorching temperatures. in california, 9 of 19 national forests are on fire. the conditions here are explosive. listen. in oregon, mandatory evacuations at the dales fire, 714 firefighters here. back in idaho , it's pb&j and an apple for lunch on day nine for engine boss shawn moore , a second-generation firefighter. he says this is the family business even though this summer he's rarely seen his own.

>> for me the toughest part about this job is having a brand-new kid at home, you know. six days from now, he'll be 8 months old. a lot of his firsts are happening while i'm out here on the line.

>> reporter: a sacrifice for men and women on the front-lines and their families at home, too. in addition to all of those firefighters on the front lines , private insurance companies have hired their own firefighters to protect some of the more exclusive properties in this neighborhood. but again, the goal is the same here, to protect structures. this fire, lester, is nearly 10% contained.

>> all right, miguel , thank you.