FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - With a treacherous wildfire less than 20 miles away from Flagstaff, volunteers from all over the state of Arizona have come out to lend a hand to contain the Slide Fire. Amongst the many people assisting with the Slide Fire are six former Northern Arizona football players – Drew Emanuel, Jake Hess, Andy Saldana, Bob Orrill, Nick Ragland-Johnsen and Parker Moore.
The fire began on May 20 and stretched 33.1 square miles near Slide Rock State Park, which is located between Flagstaff and Sedona. The fire forced families to evacuate their homes, with a Red Cross station being set up in Flagstaff. Heavy smoked filtered its way up the mountain, making it hard for residents to see and breathe.
The NAU football team prides itself in being a family and standing up for each other, so seeing former student-athletes give back to the community and lend a hand to help minimize the damage of the fire is not surprising.
"It's rewarding when you see tangible evidence of these young men living their lives the right way," said head coach Jerome Souers. "We always talk about doing things 'The right way, every day,' and it makes you smile when you know that some of our former players are out there protecting us and putting their lives on the line."
Just recently, Emanuel was fighting tackles on the football field, and now he's suited up to take on a wildfire.
When asked about his experience, Emanuel simply replied "What you call being a hero, I call doing my job; fighting the fire and protecting the lives of others."
Emanuel has joined up with Hess as they work on the same crew out of the Flagstaff Fire Department.
Saldana, who has been a member of the Mormon Lake Hotshot Crew for the past two years, also assisted with the Slide Fire.
"I'm glad that I was able to help save as many homes as we did," said Saldana. "It's always good to be able to make a difference and protect the place many people call home."
As of Sunday afternoon, the fire which has been burning for more than a week was under roughly 90 percent containment according to an Arizona Daily Sun report.
"I think they're incredibly courageous, they're determined, and it's clear they've chosen to live their lives with honor and integrity," said Souers. "If we've had a small part in helping them along the way it makes everyone in the program feel good because that's what makes this business special. Initially I'll always get a little worried because I care a lot about those guys, but then I remember that they were special kids who have become exceptional men, and they make us all very proud."