I got a phone call last night from my neighbor Aliana.
“Dan, are you burning something? There’s the smell of smoke in the air.”
“No I’m not, but I’ll go outside and see if I can see anything.” Luckily, I couldn’t see anything unusual, but I sure could smell it. The wind was really blowing.
Phone calls between neighbors established that the fire was across the border in Mexico, southeast of Big Bend National Park. A 911 operator said, “Yeah, we’ve been getting quite a few reports of the smell of smoke. But it’s nothing to be worried about. ‘Los Diablos’ have the situation well in hand.”
Los Diablos? ‘The Devils?’
It’s a 32-man crew of firefighters from small villages in Mexico along the Rio Grande River. US authorities acknowledge them as among the best in the world in fighting wildfires.
Over twenty years ago, they told rangers in Big Bend National Park that if US authorities allowed them to help fire fires in the Park, they would work “like the devil.” Since then they’ve been true to their word, many times over.
They’ve been since been sent to fight wildfires all over the West, in Washington, Colorado, Arizona, Idaho. They farm themselves out to the National Park Service for $17-$19 an hour, a princely sum in Mexico. While US firefighting crews have suffered a number of deaths and casualties, Los Diablos have never suffered a single loss in the more than 20 years they’ve been working together.
“They’re amazing, they can mobilize in four hours from their village across the river. They can be here in four hours. That’s unheard of to ask anybody to be able to do. So that’s pretty professional right there,” Park Ranger Matt Graden said. “And when they show up they know exactly what to do. They don’t need someone to tell them what to do. And they’ve got great leadership. They’re awesome. They might be humble but they are highly professional, highly trained and really skilled and incredibly hardworking.”
That said, Los Diablos are worried about being singled out in interviews, concerned they may become targets in Mexico where extortion is a problem for anyone thought to be earning a decent living. Instead, Los Diablos prefer to let their actions speak for themselves.
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