Minnesota firefighters return home after battling Australian wildfires
"I arrived on the day that several large fires kind of blew up and became very dangerous," Mike Crook recalls.
For weeks, Crook, a forestry technician at Superior National Forest, was in southeast Australia fighting the massive wildfires.
Wednesday, he was back in his Grand Marais office after 39 days away.
"When we arrived in Sydney, it was over 100 degrees, the humidity was in the single digits and it was really windy, 40 mile per hour winds," Crook said.
As a fire behavior analyst, he studies everything from flame length to weather to determine what the fire will do next.
"I would spend a little bit of time out in the field checking the fire, trying to get a visual grasp of what the fire looked like and what it was doing, what it was burning and how the people were responding to it," he shared.
Crook took pictures after flames pushed through. One shows two emus trying to navigate the scorched landscape. From the air, another photo pinpoints smoke from one of two major fires he worked.
"The Dunns Road Fire, the day I showed up and arrived, it made a massive push, the fire really exploded and it burned over two communities in that timeframe, and we lost one of the residents who was trying to defend his property," Crook said.
How difficult was it to see that destruction there in person?
"It is pretty devastating to see some of the communities that were affected by fires," he responded.
Crook worked alongside firefighters from all over the world and spent Christmas with crews from Australia, who were very grateful for his help.
"It did make me feel like the work that I could do would be worthwhile and beneficial and productive," he said.
A second Minnesota firefighter who helped with fire suppression efforts on the ground, Marty Cassellius, just returned home Tuesday.