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Iowans Head West to Fight on Front Lines

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OSKALOOSA, Iowa -- About two dozen Iowans left their day jobs to go to work out West. The group joined firefighters from around the world in the battle to control the wildfires that have scorched millions of acres this summer.

"It was very hard to breathe at times and very hazy all of the time," said Ben Hoskinson.

Hoskinson, the Roadside Vegetation Manager in Mahaska County, is no stranger to prescribed burns. The massive wildfires that he and his team worked on in Washington state were nothing like what you see in Iowa.

"Out in the west, not being able to see the flames coming is one of the most difficult parts. It sounds like a 45 mile an hour wind gust coming through and sometimes you wonder if it's the wind blowing or the trees torching above you," he said

Twenty-two Iowans to fan out across five western states- Washington, Oregon, California, Montana and Idaho. The volunteers are paid by the U.S Forest Service for their work. It's an up at dawn and work well into the night kind of job.

"We were working directly face to face with fire while we were there," said Hoskinson.

Hoskinson first started fighting western wildfires in 2007. The husband and father of two says he does it because he likes to help people. That and the adrenaline rush.

"You never know what you're going to get into. It's kind of the unexpected."

The Iowa DNR says a few wildland firefighters extended their assignments, but most should be home by this week.