FRANKLIN COUNTY, VA. – As wildfires continue to ravage the west coast, folks from our area are rushing out to help.
It’s been one of the worst fire seasons on record and there are many jobs to be done, including one by a Franklin County woman.
Betsy Haynes is a fixture at the Booker T. Washington National Monument. There she’s a park ranger educating the community about the Civil War, but for 30 years she’s stood ready to trade her ranger hat for fire gear and this year was no different.
Haynes has been home for just a few days and isn’t even fully unpacked yet, but she’s reflecting on her trip.
“I actually put my name on a list on Sept. 1 and I immediately got called on Sept. 2 to come help out. I got called out as an individual resource and I went to two fires," Haynes said.
This year she served as a member of the Public Information team, helping disseminate critical info to locals and media. She operated just outside the hot zone but was still close to the fires.
“We could hear trees cracking and falling down, I mean big huge trees just in the woods not too, too far away so we knew that the fires were still going, they were just contained within the line," Haynes said.
But this role is really a wildfire retirement gig. She started in 1991 and for 18 years faced the flames head-on, working in the field to fight the fires alongside other crews.
“I did the step test and I was getting boots and then all of a sudden I was on a fire on the Blue Ridge Parkway, luckily my first fire was on the Blue Ridge so I learned everything about digging lines and all that in the beginning," Haynes said.
The work is demanding and the conditions are deadly, but Haynes rarely says no. And whether it’s teaching history in Franklin County or helping fight fires across the country, she said she’s better for it.
“But it just sort of gets me out of my comfort zone, just being where I usually am, and it’s just kind of a nice escape from that challenge to a different challenge," Haynes said.