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Dozens of Puerto Rican crews help fight wildfires in Kentucky

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Posted at 4:42 PM, Oct 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-16 16:42:20-04

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. (LEX 18) — While the cold weather is a nice reprieve from the recent heat and drought, the U.S. Forest Service insists we're not out of the woods when it comes to wildfires.

There are still fire restrictions in the Daniel Boone National Forest and they are getting a helping hand from crews from Puerto Rico.

Gabriel Gutierrez, the crew boss, is a long way from home, but the woods of Kentucky have become a familiar terrain.

"Kentucky for me... they hold a special place in my heart," said Gutierrez. "And anything they need me to be here, I will come."

Gutierrez has fought fires in Kentucky in the past on at least six different occasions. But, the extremely dry weather this season has made things even more challenging.

"The rich forest that we have... you know... in Daniel Boone National Forest, that definitely got compromised in this kind of weather," Gutierrez said.

About 60 volunteers from Puerto Rico arrived in Kentucky in early October. They were charged with containing and controlling dozens of acres of wildfires.

"Fire behavior is very different here, because its raining today..." said Crew Boss Trainee Elvis Ajuiar Mercado. "But maybe this afternoon it's starting to get dry... and then after one or two days, everything's dry... you take the leaves out and everything's dry over there."

The crews have also been dealing with topography they are not used to navigating. Over 12-hour days, the job can be draining, but Gutierrez and his men said they will stay in Kentucky as long as it takes.