MORGANTON, N.C. (WBTV) – The wildfire at Chestnut Knob in South Mountains has been burning for 19 days. Fire crews from 12 different states are working to put it out. For a majority of the crews, Thanksgiving was spent far away from home.
“It’s a little unusual being out of state for the holidays,” said Cpt. Johnathan Popp of Arizona. “It’s the first time being out of state for a major holidays like Thanksgiving – do what we can do.”
Jason Campbell came in from California.
“In the last 13 years I’ve only been away from Thanksgiving on a fire one time,” Campbell said. “This is only the second time I’ve done it in 13 years.”
Fire officials said at the height at the fire, 390 people were tackling the fire. Now, more than 200 remain as the fire is 70% contained.
Crews said they usually travel during fire season in the summer. It’s very uncommon to fight wildfires late in winter.
For many, being away from home for Thanksgiving is a bit weird.
Jason Campbell thought he was going to be on a family vacation.
“It’s different. The family is missing me,” Campbell said. “They were looking forward to that vacation so we’ll probably take it when I get back, probably do something for Christmas.”
Popp said he arrived in Burke County a little over a week ago. He understands working holidays but is still adjusting to working out of state on the holiday.
“It’s a little weird not being there,” he said. “I would have… normally I was on duty if I didn’t come out here. I was going to miss it with the family anyway. There were going to come to the station so that part was okay because I still would have been there.”
His family is also adapting.
“My wife is not too happy about it. She’s good with it. It’s part of being a firefighter’s wife,” he said. “She’s used to the missed holidays and missed birthdays and occasions like that so.. it’s not the first one I’ve missed.”
Strangers have been trying to make the firefighters feel at home in Burke County. People have donated bags of food, snacks, and supplies.
Kids made thank you cards. Adults sent thank you letters.
On the night before Thanksgiving, everyone near South Mountains – including the out-of-state fire crews – are simply grateful they’re making progress against the fire.